While medical marijuana is legal in California and small amounts of it for personal use have been decriminalized, this doesn't mean you can't still be arrested for using it. The main reason for being arrested for marijuana use in California is currently for driving while under its influence. This is called driving while drugged, and it is taken seriously as a driving crime. In fact, driving while under the influence of any substance is illegal in California if your use of that substance has impaired your ability to drive safely. Being pulled over while driving while drugged carries some serious penalties. If you have a car accident that you caused while you are drugged, it is even more serious.
Here are the things you need to know about driving while drugged in California.
1. Driving While Drugged is Treated the Same as a DUI, But Proving It Is More Difficult
While the penalties for driving while drugged are the same as for a DUI, it may be difficult for a prosecutor to prove in court that you were actually inhibited to the point of lacking the ability to drive safely. It is easier to prove this with alcohol, as there are breathalyzer and blood tests that can tell exactly how impaired a person is at the time of their arrest. These tests do not exist for marijuana. No test will prove you just partook marijuana before getting behind the wheel, only that you consumed it at some point within the past several days. A good attorney will capitalize on this in court and use the lack of evidence to try to get the charges against you dropped.
2. It Is Up to Police Officers to Prove You Were Impaired, and It's Extremely Subjective
The law in California is actually on your side in this. It states that you can only be convicted of driving while drugged if you are so impaired that you lack the prudence and caution of a sober driver, and that this deficiency must be directly caused by the marijuana. Therefore, police and prosecuting attorneys rely almost exclusively on visible evidence at the time of your arrest, such as the way you are driving, how you look, and how you perform on standard field sobriety tests. Unlike with alcohol, where the results are pretty definitive, the results achieved in testing for marijuana impairment are quite subjective. What may look like impaired driving due to marijuana influence to one police officer may not look like it at all to another. This works in your favor in court. Your attorney can use the defense that you were tired, not impaired, or any other number of defenses that don't involve you driving while drugged.
3. You Must Submit to Field Sobriety and Other Tests If You Are Driving a Car
Under California law, anyone who is driving a car is giving their implied consent to be tested for sobriety through field tests and/or testing of the blood or urine. While it is extremely unlikely your impairment via marijuana can be proven with any of these tests, you can be fined and get your licensed suspended if you refuse to take them. Your license may be suspended for up to a year if you refuse to be tested and are later convicted of driving while drugged.
Driving while drugged laws apply to anyone using marijuana, even those using it for prescribed medical reasons. However, as can be seen, proving you were actually impaired by marijuana while you were driving is extremely difficult to prove. If you have been in a car accident, contact a good car accident attorney, such as Carl L. Britt, Jr., to defend your case. The penalties you receive for causing an accident will be far less significant than if you are convicted of causing an accident while driving while drugged. You may even get off entirely with no penalties at all if your car accident attorney can show lack of evidence of your impairment, as well as extenuating circumstances that made the accident unavoidable.