On Sunday September 7th, a Huntington Beach resident shot a short video of a violent altercation between two of her neighbors. Not long afterwards the female in the video, Laura Angela Cox, was pulled over by Huntington Beach police and charged with driving under the influence of drugs. The neighbor in the meantime posted the video on YouTube where it instantly went viral.
The video is disturbing to watch as Cox screams obscenities at her scooter bound boyfriend before pushing him and his scooter to the ground and driving off in a white vehicle. As she backs away, she hits the scooter before making her speedy exit. The video ends with the boyfriend getting up and screaming “I’m calling the police. You’re going to jail!”
Jail is exactly where Cox did go after being pulled over and arrested by Huntington Beach Police. Her charges include two misdemeanors, one for operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs with a prior conviction and the other for using and being under the influence of a controlled substance. She also faces domestic battery charges and vandalism under $400.
California law prohibits driving under the influence of drugs or medications including methamphetamine (meth). These cases are treated in the same manner as driving under the influence of alcohol cases, with the same types of penalties imposed.
In California drugs are considered to be any substance other than alcohol that has a negative impact on a person’s nervous system, brain and/or muscles. You are considered to be driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) if you have been impaired to the point where you can not react the way a sober person would in the same situation.
One of the major differences between being investigated for a DUID as opposed to a DUI is the way in which a suspect is tested at the scene. While a Breathalyzer is given when alcohol use is suspected, in California a drug recognition expert (DRE) will be called if there is reason to believe that the driver is impaired by drugs. These officers have been specially trained to identify signs in behavior that are typically present with drug use. These will include eye movement, speech and other behaviors.
While a blood test can be done to verify the presence of a drug in a person’s system, there is no exact way to distinguish at what toxicity a person can be considered impaired, leaving that distinction totally at the discretion of the officers at the scene.
Sentencing for driving under the influence of drugs follows the same pattern as convictions for DUI offenses. This is bad news for Cox, who has already been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs just last year.
Also unfortunate for Cox is that in addition to the DRE officer at the scene, close to two million viewers were also witness to her drug induced erratic behavior. Just two days after the video of the altercation was posted it had gone viral, gaining national attention as well as the attention of California prosecutors.
Under normal circumstances, a defendant in a DUID case can call to question the assessment of the DRE. Just having a drug present in the system is not enough to warrant a conviction. The prosecution has to be able to prove that the drug left the driver impaired to the point that they could not reasonably operate a motor vehicle safely. With the presence of this video, Cox likely has little chance of challenging the DRE’s assessment.
Important to note is that a drug does not have to be illegal for a driver to be charged with a DUID or “drugged driving”. There are certain prescribed and even over the counter medications which can alter a person’s mental state to the point where a DRE could consider them to be impaired.
Also be aware that in California, acceptance of a driver’s license is considered to implied consent for a blood test to determine the presence of drugs in a driver’s system. Refusing this test may lead to further charges.
Ms. Cox may face a sentencing enhancement as she has been convicted of a DUID previously. A first time offender would be facing up to one year in county jail followed by a period of three to five years probation. In addition, their driver’s license will be suspended for at least six months and they will have to attend a minimum of three months worth of drug education classes.
To avoid these penalties, a California defense attorney will typically challenge the assessment of the DRE. So long as they can cast doubt on the assumption that the driver was unable to drive safely at the time of arrest, they may be able to help their clients avoid a conviction.
The fate of Cox is still in question as she was arraigned earlier this week and will begin pre-trial hearings on Friday. Unlike other defendants facing similar charges, thanks to her neighbor and the video that went viral, she will have a difficult time in presenting a defense that will help her avoid yet another conviction for a DUID.
Those who are facing charges for driving while under the influence of drugs whose alleged offenses took place in Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, or Orange County are eligible to receive a free case evaluation from one of our skilled DUI lawyers by calling (888) 250-2865.