Susan L. Hartman is licensed to practice law in California and Massachusetts

weedIt’s common knowledge that driving under the influence of drugs is illegal in California. However, determining exactly what constitutes “driving under the influence of drugs” may come as a surprise. Vehicle Code § 23152(f) is the law that makes driving under the influence of drugs illegal. The law is about as clearly written as it can be: “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

While the law is clear in its wording, it still leaves a lot of questions. Below are some of the most common questions about charges related to driving under the influence of drugs.

Is It Illegal to Drive Under the Influence of All Drugs? Or Just Illegal Drugs?

Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is against the law in California. While most people are aware of the laws against drunk driving, few understand how complex this area of law is. The vast majority of the time, California DUI cases are not as straightforward as they may seem. One of the most misunderstood aspects of California DUI law is the operation element.Man-with-Cop-Behind-300x300

Before a judge or jury can find you guilty of a DUI crime, the government must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were “driving” the vehicle. This is referred to as the operation element. In most states, prosecutors can meet the operation element of a DUI by showing that the defendant exercised physical control over the vehicle. However, in California, the law is slightly more favorable to defendants. To be found guilty of a California DUI, the prosecution must prove that you intentionally caused the vehicle to move by exercising physical control over it. Thus, if the vehicle didn’t move, you are not guilty of DUI.

That said, when referring to “movement,” any movement of the vehicle, however slight, qualifies as driving. Additionally, police officers can rely on circumstantial evidence to illustrate that a car had moved, even if they didn’t witness the car moving. For example, say that police officers respond to a call for a single-vehicle traffic accident. When the police arrive, they find a car wrapped around a utility pole. The driver is the only person inside the car, and there is a half-full bottle of whiskey on the driver’s side floorboard. In this situation, police officers would almost certainly arrest the driver for DUI, even though they didn’t observe the car moving. In doing so, they would rely on the following:

  • There was only one person in the car; and
  • The car had been in an accident.

In this situation, the circumstantial evidence suggests that the person found in the driver’s seat intentionally caused the vehicle to move by exercising physical control over the vehicle. While there is the possibility that someone switched seats with the driver, that is a defense that must be raised at trial. Continue reading ›

The penalties for a San Diego DUI conviction can be very harsh. For example, even if you are a first-time offender, you could be sentenced to up to one year in jail, five years on probation, a fine of $1,000, and participation in a nine-month mandatory drug and alcohol education program. The judge may also require that you install an ignition interlock system on your car, in which case you can drive without restriction. Otherwise, your license could be suspended for up to ten months.

Given the serious nature of these penalties, many people facing a DUI charge are interested in learning what they can do to reduce the charges or penalties they may face upon a conviction. Of course, not every DUI case results in a conviction; however, it is still a good idea to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

While driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol places others in significant danger, there has been a shift towards an increased understanding of why people get behind the wheel while intoxicated. Rather than view these offenses in isolation, courts are now more willing to consider that a DUI defendant suffers from addiction, and that their addiction played a role in their commission of the offense. That being the case, one of the things that can help mitigate against a hefty DUI sentence is to seek drug or alcohol treatment while the case is pending.

While any California DUI offense can have a serious impact on a person’s life, those DUI cases that involve an accident with injury are especially serious. Anyone facing such a violation must make sure to understand what they are facing, to better defend against the allegations. California Vehicle Code section 23153 provides that it is illegal to drive a car while engaging in any other type of conduct that is forbidden by law. This includes driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

After a California DUI accident, the prosecution will likely charge several offenses. Aside from a traditional DUI, a motorist may also face charges under section 23153. To prove a violation of section 23153, the prosecution must show:

  1. The driver violated the state’s DUI laws;
  2. While under the influence, you also violated another traffic law, or otherwise acted in a negligent manner; and
  3. The driver’s actions resulted in another’s injury.

To find someone in violation of the California DUI laws, the prosecution must establish that a driver:

  • Had a blood-alcohol (BAC) content of .08 or more;
  • Was otherwise under the influence of alcohol (even with a BAC of less than .08);
  • Was under the influence of drugs; or
  • Was under the influence of both drugs and alcohol.

Continue reading ›

The COVID-19 pandemic has, to varying degrees, affected the entire world. All but the most essential businesses and government services were ordered to shut down. And while things started to re-open a few months ago, the recent surge in cases in California and across the country has resulted in many businesses and government organizations shutting back down.

Of course, while these closures impact everyone, few people are more unfairly affected by these closures than those facing criminal charges.  People, who remain innocent until proven guilty, have cases hanging over their heads or, worse yet, remain incarcerated as they wait for their cases to be heard.

In terms of the San Diego Superior Court, the court was closed on March 17, 2020, and remained closed for all but a very select few matters until May 26, 2020, when the court began its reopening process. The court then heard a few trials; however, the court shut back down in the fall due to a surge in cases. Currently, the San Diego Superior Court is conducting most types of hearings, especially for those facing serious criminal charges. However, most business is being conducted remotely, and the court will continue to rely on virtual hearings for the foreseeable future.

Today, the San Diego County Bar Association hosted a “State of the Court Address” online via Zoom. Presenters included the San Diego Superior Court Presiding Judge Lorna Alksne, Assistant Presiding Judge Michael Smyth, and Mike Roddy, the CEO of the Superior Court. There were over 2600 attendees in on the meeting to hear the latest updates! Allegedly, this was the largest Zoom meeting of its kind regarding the state of the court in the State of California.

As for what was covered in the criminal arena: gavel-300x230

The court will remain closed except for essential or emergency services until at least May 22nd, 2020. For a full list of what matters are being addressed, look at the court orders on the San Diego Court website.

As you are aware, the nation is struggling with the corona virus pandemic, and our state courts and other institutions are also reeling. The information I’m about to provide is literally changing by the minute, so I will continue to post updates as needed. Doctor looking upward to monitor in hospital operating room

As of today, many counties in California have totally closed the courts with the exception of essential services. The San Diego Court procedures are changing by the minute. Most out of custody criminal matters will either be rescheduled for a date certain or a new procedure will be posted on how to reschedule.

If you are scheduled for a DUI program, MADD class, Public Service Program, or are attending AA’s, or are currently wearing or using an alcohol monitoring device, please call the appropriate places to inquire about the current state of their program. Many are closed or have limited service. If this makes you out of compliance with a court order, I recommend you document your attempts to do what was ordered. As of now, there is no way to address the non-compliance; however, in the future you will have to appear in court to explain this to the judge. Therefore, your documentation will be necessary. Continue reading ›

In a recent California appellate decision, the appellate court considered the denial of a motion to suppress in a case involving felony DUI within 10 years of three prior DUI convictions in exchange for formal probation and dismissal of an enhancement and other charges. The DUI arose when a police officer saw the defendant’s vehicle travel into a field. He came up in his patrol car and directed his spotlight to the front of the defendant’s vehicle.

The defendant left his vehicle and tried to talk on a cell phone. The officer came up and asked what he was doing there. He smelled alcohol within moments of talking to the defendant and saw the defendant became nervous when providing responses to questions.

Later, the defendant identified himself, but the patrol officer suspected this identification was false and put him in handcuffs. The defendant gave his true name, and through a records check, the patrol officer learned his license had been suspended and he was on probation for prior DUIs. The defendant refused a chemical breath test, which was a condition of his probation. He refused a second time, and was then arrested and taken to the hospital for a blood draw, which revealed his blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .093.

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In a recent California appellate decision, a defendant appealed a judgment entered after a jury trial in which he was convicted of a DUI under Vehicle Code section 23152 and DUI with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or greater. The lower court found the defendant had been convicted of three prior DUI offenses and determined to be true the allegations for enhancement purposes that the defendant drove under the influence with a BAC of .08 or greater within 10 years of 3 prior DUI convictions under Section 23550. The lower court put in place a three year jail sentence.

The defendant claimed his identity was not established by certified minute orders presented as proof of prior convictions and therefore the lower court’s findings about his prior convictions were not bolstered by substantial proof. The appellate court disagreed.

The case arose when the police pulled over the defendant on I-110 after he was seen weaving and almost hitting another car. The officer saw the glossiness of the defendant’s eyes and observed he was slurring his words. He asked for help from the California Highway Patrol in connection with a DUI. The officer came to the scene and immediately saw the defendant showed signs and symptoms of intoxication such as slurred speech and red and watery eyes. The defendant claimed this was the result of one margarita. However, field sobriety tests showed he was impaired because of alcohol and his BAC was .187-.179.

Continue reading ›

Sometimes drunk driving leads to someone’s death. In that case, you may face multiple charges on top of any DUI charges that apply. In a recent California appellate decision, the defendant appealed a conviction for gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and challenged the lower court’s denial of probation, among other things.

The prosecutor filed a three county felony complaint charging the defendant with a gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under section 191.5(a), DUI causing injury under Vehicle Code section 23153(a), and driving with a measurable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) triggering injury under Vehicle Code section 23153(b). With regard to these two other counts, it was alleged the defendant personally caused great bodily injury, that his BAC was at least 0.15% or greater, and proximately caused bodily injury or death to more than one person.

The defendant pled guilty and admitted the truth of the enhancement allegations. The factual grounds for the plea was that he had knowingly and unlawfully killed someone without malice aforethought while drunk driving and the killing was the result of an illegal act that was not a felony, which resulted in death. He also admitted his blood alcohol was .15 or greater.

Continue reading ›

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