When most California drivers think of a DUI conviction, they assume that it was alcohol-related. However, in California, a driver can easily be convicted of a DUI for being under the influence of prescription drugs.
Paige Zellerbach, a 51-year-old local dentist, was arrested for prescription drug DUI after hitting a tree with her car. The defendant admitted to having taken an antidepressant and anxiety drug and blood tests showed that she had three additional drugs in her system at the time of the crash. At the hearing, the arresting officer testified that the defendant exhibited numerous signs of intoxication such as droopy eyes, slurred speech, and loss of balance during the field sobriety test.
Why Paige Was Found Not Guilty
California Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC states that it is unlawful for any person under the influence of any mind-altering substance to operate a vehicle.
California law does not make a distinction between whether the drugs were illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter: the legal standard of being under the influence of drugs is whether or not the substance taken affected your ability to operate your vehicle in a safe manner. Instead of a quantitative threshold for determining whether a defendant is under the influence, such as in an alcohol-related DUI, the prosecution instead relies on the observations of the arresting officer and testimony from expert witnesses.
Despite the arresting officer’s testimony and the blood test results, the defendant was acquitted of the charge because the court found that the police did not follow the proper chain of custody procedure for the evidence.
In most cases, a prescription drug DUI is a misdemeanor and can result in one or more of the following penalties:
- Driver’s license suspension
- Required completion of DUI school
- DUI probation for 3-5 years
- Jail time
However, a prescription drug DUI will be charged as a felony if the defendant:
- Has had four or more prior DUI convictions
- One or more prior felony DUI convictions
- Causes injury to a third party
Possible Defenses For Similar Cases
The legal defenses that a defendant can use in order to obtain an acquittal include:
- Not meeting the definition of “under the influence”
- The defendant had a legitimate physical condition that was mistaken for drug intoxication
- The collection, storage, and/or analysis of the blood or urine samples failed to comply with California’s Title 17 Procedure
How To Tell If You’re Committing A Prescription Drug DUI
If you have been charged with a prescription drug DUI, your attorney will consider the following questions:
- Were you under the influence of drugs at the time?
- Did you have a legitimate physical condition that would explain the physical symptoms you were exhibiting at the time of arrest, such as allergies, anxiety, a heart condition, etc.?
- Did the police follow the chain of custody requirements for your blood test?
- What signs of intoxication will the arresting officer testify you exhibited (slurred speech, loss of balance, droopy eyes, etc.)?
Those who have been arrested for driving under the influence of prescription drugs are often unaware that they are committing DUI. In many cases, defendants have opportunities to fight their charges and call evidence into question.