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California Drugged Driving Bill Could Change DUI Policy

A new bill on drugged driving could change California DUI policy, and consequently, DUI policy throughout the nation. Driving under the influence isn't exclusive to alcohol anymore. An increasing amount of DUI arrests involve drugs, prescription and illegal narcotics. The bill aims to address the fact that there is currently no standard for drugged driving, as opposed to drunk driving which has set blood alcohol concentration limits- .08 percent for drivers over 21 and .04 percent for commercial drivers.

Commenting on this proposed legislation, ABC 7 cited the example of CHP Officer Justin McGrory who was killed two years ago by a drugged driver while writing a ticket on the side of a highway. The driver who tested positive for drugs was never convicted.

A driver is under the influence of drugs, marijuana to be exact, and kills a police officer yet his case ends in a mistrial. Many wonder how this could be, but two years ago there was no law explicitly forbidding smoking pot while driving so the jury was "hung" (couldn't come to a verdict).

The bill is State Senate Bill 289 “Vehicles: Driving under the influence: Drugs.”

This bill would make it unlawful for a person to drive a motor vehicle if his or her blood contains any detectable amount of a drug classified in Schedules I, II, III, or IV of the California Uniform Controlled Substance Act, unless the drug was consumed in accordance with a valid prescription issued to the person by a licensed health care practitioner.

Since there is currently no way to measure a percentage of drug inebriation like there is which chemical alcohol testing, even trace amounts of a drug could be enough to get a person arrested and charged with drugged driving. As you can see from the proposed legislation though, there are some exceptions such as drugs that were taken in accordance with a lawful prescription. Many see the bill as a potential remedy to the rise in drugged driving cases which, the Office of Traffic Safety reports, has passed the total number of drivers who test positive for alcohol.

Even if this bill were to be passed and become law in California, drugged driving cases would still be difficult to prosecute and could result in an excess of false charges. Currently, the state has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the drugs found in the defendant's system impaired their driving enough to cause the erratic driving and/or accident. The passage of this bill would mean that prosecutors are no longer required to make the connection between drug use and erratic driving. It will simply be illegal to drive with any trace of drugs in a person's system.

The Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry does not support this proposed legislation. As experienced DUI defense attorneys, we understand the science behind DUI arrests. Because of our experience and certification in these areas, we know that some drugs can stay in a person's system for days after use. For example, cocaine can remain in a person's blood stream for up to seven days. There is no definitive way to determine how long a drug has been in someone's system- only a way to detect whether or not it is present. Should this bill pass, we are of the belief that many individuals will be falsely charged.