DRIVING WHILE ADDICTED TO A DRUG
Did you know it is illegal to drive if you are addicted to a drug? That’s right, you could be charged under this statute even if you are not impaired by the drug you are addicted to at the time you are driving. While such an arrest, on its own, is unlikely, it is a “add-on” charge that a prosecutor can use. Vehicle Code section 23152, subdivision (c) very plainly makes it unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle if that person is “addicted to the use of any drug.”
Practically speaking, if a driver is stopped by an officer and has no visible signs of an addiction, the officer cannot know that the driver is addicted to a drug. However, let’s say a driver is stopped and arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. During the investigation at the time of arrest or later, it is learned that the driver is also addicted to a drug, an additional vehicle code violation under section 23152, subdivision (c) may, and probably will, be added to the DUI complaint.
But what does it mean to be addicted to a drug. For purposes of this statute, the State of California defines a drug as any substance, other than alcohol, that affects a person’s system to the extent that it “appreciably” impairs person’s ability to drive. This statute applies to all drugs, even those that are legally prescribed.
“Addicted” was defined by the California Supreme Court many years ago. In 1965, the California Supreme Court considered a case, People v. O’Neil (1965) 62 Ca.2d 748, wherein a disabled World War II veteran who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, regularly took a prescription narcotic for his pain. One day while driving home after receiving his prescription, he was stopped by a narcotics officer. When questioned, the veteran told the officer he had just been to his doctor and showed the officer a vial of the prescription pills. He was arrested for violation of driving while addicted to a narcotic drug.
At trial, the driver testified that he had not taken the prescription pill that day and the officer testified that the driver’s handling of his vehicle did not indicate any impairment. Indeed, he was not charged with any driving under the influence of a drug, only for driving while addicted to a drug. The Supreme Court ultimately reversed the trial court conviction on the basis that the trial court must distinguish “habitual use” from addiction. The Supreme Court reasoned that “habitual use” of a drug is not the same as being addicted to a drug. It was the O’Neil case that established the definition of addiction for purposes of Vehicle Code section 23152, subdivision (c): “Addicted to a drug” means that the person is physically dependent on the drug, has developed a tolerance to the drug thus requiring increasingly larger doses, and is emotionally dependent on the drug.
The difference may be nuanced and ambiguous and therefore, may offer a defense to a charge of driving while addicted to a drug. This is particularly relevant if the drug is marijuana; whether a person is addicted to marijuana or just a habitual user is a difficult thing for the prosecution to prove.
What if a driver is going off the drug and hasn’t taken it for a few days, but is still experiencing withdrawal symptoms? Unless the driver is participating in a statutorily-approved narcotic treatment program, the driver is still technically addicted and subject to arrest. The statute exempts those who are in an approved treatment program.
Orange County DUI attorney William Weinberg has been defending drivers arrested for DUI and related charges for over 20 years. If you have been arrested for driving while addicted to a drug or for any violation of the California DUI laws, contact Attorney Weinberg at 949-474-8008 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for a complimentary consultation regarding the particulars of your case.Drivin