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Should You Ever Admit Drug Usage To A Police Officer?

Please note: If you need to speak to a DUI lawyer in Los Angeles, contact Craig Sturm today.

You don’t like being pulled over, but should it happen, how do you handle the situation to your advantage? You need to know how to talk to the police officer, what to say and what not to say.

If the officer asks if you’ve taken any drugs, and you have in fact taken drugs, many people wonder if you should be honest with them and say yes.

Do not admit drug usage to a police officer if they ask before submitting you to any field sobriety tests. Police officers are trained to identify behavior and other signs associated with drug or alcohol use. If they suspect you are under the influence, they should have you evaluated by a Drug Recognition Experts (DRE).  

Admitting drug usage gives the officer more reasons to investigate or subject you to testing. Although DUIs are often associated with illegal drugs and alcohol, prescription medication can also get you into trouble since it is unlawful to drive under the influence of prescription medicine.

It would help if you didn’t volunteer to tell the officer that you are on medication. Even if you can show the prescription to the DA, it is not a defense. It is recommended that you do not tell the officers more than you need to. Identify yourself and cooperate with them, but avoid giving too much information that may be used to build a case against you or call for further investigation.

In most cases, when you encounter a police officer, they will ask about where you are coming from or whether you have been out drinking. These are not questions you have to or want to answer. Police officers do not need to know where you have been or what you have been doing.

Whenever law enforcers ask such questions, always remember that they are not trying to be friendly but rather gathering evidence against you. Tell them that you know your rights and will not answer any questions without an attorney. If you disclose you are on medication, you will be risking an arrest for DUI. Moreover, your car will probably be towed at your cost, which would be an additional expense for you.

Should You Take Field Sobriety Tests?

Often police will use the standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) to determine whether they should arrest you on suspicions of DUI. The tests can vary but usually include the walk-and-turn, one-leg stand, and eye test. One thing that most people don’t know is that SFSTs are not mandatory. You can say no.

The officers will attempt to get you into taking the tests to build a case against you. For example, some may use manipulative tactics like asking, “If you do not have anything, why are you declining to take the test?” Such a question will likely make you feel like you need proof that you are not driving under the influence. However, remember that in case of a DUI arrest, it is the government’s burden of proof, not yours. Tell them you know your rights, and you will NOT take the field sobriety test, and that you want to speak with your attorney.

One major problem with field sobriety tests is that they are not always accurate. Sometimes a sober person can fail the tests while an intoxicated one passes them, making them highly unreliable. There are various reasons why the inaccuracy may occur, including improper observations by the officers, medical problems and medications, incorrect instructions, shoes (especially in walk-and-turn test and one-leg stand test), and weight.

However, it is essential to note that police officers can administer the tests in compliance with the guidelines and protocols of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The test results are admissible in court, guaranteed they meet the requirements. While there are no penalties for refusing a field sobriety test, there are serious penalties for refusing a chemical test. You can refuse the breathalyzer but then you should submit to the blood test. If you refuse both, you face serious consequences.

Prescription Drug DUI Cases vs. Alcohol-Based DUI Cases

There are two types of DUI laws used in these cases, “per se” and impairment law. According to per se DUI Laws, driving with a particular concentration of a controlled substance in your system or with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more is illegal. These laws can be used in alcohol-based DUI cases, but they are primarily inapplicable for most legal drugs and medications.

Thus, prescription drug DUI cases fall under the impairment DUI laws. Defending the case requires proof of the driver’s actual impairment. The prosecution will need to prove that the driver’s intoxication resulted from medication or drug ingestion. One major challenge in these cases is that slight impairment isn’t considered enough proof of the driver’s incapacity to handle the vehicle.

In an alcohol DUI case, sobriety tests can be used to prove the driver was under the influence. For example, a guilty verdict is based on determining whether the driver was driving at or over a blood alcohol concentration of .08%, or they didn’t. On the contrary, drug DUI doesn’t have a standard evaluation to prove impairment.

 It is hard to prove that specific actions were done because of the drugs. The jurors, thus, depend on medical examinations or expert opinion. For example, you may be required to take a blood test, where if the results are positive, you will be charged with DUI. However, given that people have varying tolerance to different medications, it is difficult to prove impairment in drug DUI cases.

What Are The Penalties For Drug-Related DUI Cases In California?

In California, drug-related DUI cases are charged under Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC, which makes it illegal to drive under the influence of drugs (DUIDs). Most DUIs are prosecuted as misdemeanors or felonies (if someone is injured). The penalties under these categories may differ depending on your case.

DUIDs in California are mainly considered misdemeanors. Their related penalties include:

  • 3 to 5 years of DUI probation,
  • A fine
  • Enrolment to the California DUI School; a program of alcohol education and prevention
  • Possible jail time
  • Driver’s license suspension

A DUID can be charged as a felony if;

  • It is your fourth or subsequent DUI offense
  • You have even one prior felony DUI conviction,
  • The DUI caused injury to a third party

The penalties, in this case, can include; up to 1 year in a county jail in case of a misdemeanor and up to 16 years in state jail in case of felony with injury, a fine of up to $5000, driver’s license suspension, and court-ordered drug education.

How Does A Prior DUI Conviction For An Alcohol-Related Offense Impact A Drug-Related DUI?

 Whether it is alcohol or drugs, a second or third DUI attracts heavier fines and penalties. For example, the license suspension period can increase from 5 months for the first offense to 2 years for a second offense, while the jail term increases from 6 months to 1 year.

One thing to avoid is the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) thinking that you are a habitual drug user. If you are constantly arrested and charged on DUI charges, the DMV is likely to believe that you have a drug problem. In this case, the punishment may be made more severe. For example, you may receive a license suspension that disallows you from getting your license back unless you can prove that you no longer take drugs after a substantial duration. Providing sufficient proof requires time and several blood tests.        

For more information on DUI issues and other professional defense consultations, contact Artz & Sturm via 310-820-1315.

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