Driving Under the Influence of Marijuana in California
- Vehicle Code §23152(f) -
Marijuana DUI Charges – VC 23152(f)
While the recreational use of marijuana was decriminalized several years ago, California still prohibits anyone from driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.
Just like it’s illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol, it’s also illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. California Vehicle Code section 23152(f) makes it a crime to drive a vehicle on a public street while under the influence of any drug.
Violating VC §23152(f) for driving under the influence of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense. The maximum penalty for a marijuana DUI is 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Below you’ll find some general information regarding marijuana DUI charges, however, it’s always best to contact a marijuana DUI defense lawyer. Employing the services of an experienced and knowledgeable marijuana DUI lawyer can be particularly beneficial when facing criminal charges.
A good marijuana DUI lawyer will be able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case, provide insight into the litigation process, and advise what steps should be taken to preserve your rights.
1. Is there a legal limit of THC in California?
Most people know that it is illegal to drive a motor vehicle in California with a blood alcohol concentration of .08% or higher. This prohibition is referred to as California’s “per se” DUI law.
California's "per se" DUI law permits a jury to find that a driver was “under the influence” of alcohol without having to considered whether the driver was actually impaired by the alcohol in their system.
Unlike driving under the influence of alcohol, California doesn’t have a “per se” limit on the amount of THC someone can have in their system while driving. The reason there's no specific prohibited level of THC is because the effects of THC can vary drastically from person to person. While nearly everyone is unable to safely operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08% or higher, the same cannot be said of a specific THC level.
There is currently no way of reliably calculating the THC level in a person's blood at the time of driving.
Moreover, many recent studies have indicated that the level of THC found in a person’s bloodstream doesn’t always correlate directly with impairment. In other words, even though someone has a lot of THC in their system, the person may not really be impaired by that THC.
As a result, marijuana DUIs require the prosecutor to prove that the driver was actually impaired by the marijuana they consumed.
2. What are the elements of marijuana DUI charges?
In order to be found guilty of any crime, the prosecutor must prove all of the essential components of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The essential components of a crime are called the elements of the crime. To be convicted of driving under the influence of marijuana in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(f) the prosecutor must prove two elements.
First, the prosecutor must be able to demonstrate that the defendant drove a motor vehicle on a public street. Ordinarily, whether the person drove the vehicle isn’t a very contested issue.
There’s usually an officer or witness who will testify that the defendant was driving the vehicle. Much more contested in marijuana DUI cases is the second element of the offense.
The second element of driving under the influence of marijuana requires the prosecutor to show that the defendant was actually impaired by marijuana at the time of driving. As it was mentioned earlier, this can become extremely difficult since there is no “per se” limit for the prosecutor to rely on.
The outcome of marijuana DUI cases is extremely dependent on the circumstantial evidence of impairment. Some things the jury will consider are your driving just prior to the traffic stop, your ability to perform field sobriety tests, your demeanor during the stop, and any admission to consuming marijuana.
3. What are the penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana?
The penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana are nearly identical to those for driving under the influence of alcohol. The penalties often depend on the driver’s prior criminal record, the circumstances surrounding the driving, and whether anyone was injured by the conduct.
The maximum penalty for a first-time marijuana DUI is 6 months in county jail and a $1,000 fine. The driver will also have their license suspended for 6 months and the privilege will not be reinstated until the DMV receives proof of completion of a 3-month DUI class and increased liability insurance.
Courts don’t usually issue the maximum punishment, though. For example, in Orange County, defendants are ordinarily placed on 3 years of probation, ordered to pay a fine of $390, and required to complete a 3-month DUI course. Most Orange County judges will also make the defendant perform community service or community labor if the driving resulted in a vehicle collision.
4. What are some common defenses to marijuana DUI charges?
Defending against a charge of driving under the influence of marijuana in California involves a range of potential strategies and defenses. It's important to consult with an attorney who specializes in marijuana DUI cases to determine the best approach based on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. Some common defenses that may be used include:
Challenging the Stop –
Everyone has a right under the Fourth Amendment to be free of unreasonable search and seizure. Therefore, an officer must have reasonable suspicion that the driver committed some kind a violation in order to stop a motor vehicle.
If law enforcement lacked reasonable suspension to believe a crime was committed, then any evidence obtained as a result of the illegal stop is inadmissible at trial.
Challenging the THC Level –
As previously discussed, THC is much different than alcohol. Just because THC is found in someone’s bloodstream doesn’t necessarily mean the person was under the influence at the time of driving.
An experienced marijuana DUI lawyer will often argue that any THC found in the defendant’s blood was from a prior use that no longer affected the defendant’s ability to drive.
Challenging the FSTs –
Field sobriety tests (a.k.a. FSTs) were developed many years ago to assist officers in determining whether a driver’s BAC was at or above .08%. However, these tests were never designed to determine whether someone was under the influence of marijuana.
Moreover, FSTs can be very subjective and ripe with errors. Highlighting those errors can have a serious impact in cases that are highly dependent on FSTs to prove the driver’s impairment.
Field sobriety tests are not designed to determine whether someone is under the influence of marijuana.
5. Is it really necessary to hire a marijuana DUI lawyer?
No, it is not always necessary to hire a lawyer. That said, you should always contact a marijuana DUI lawyer before making any decisions on your case. A brief phone call to discuss the specific facts of your case, the complexities of the litigation process, and the possible outcomes of a trial can make all the difference.
Time is of the essence, though. You should always try to contact a marijuana DUI lawyer as soon as possible after being cited for driving under the influence of marijuana. Failure to contact a marijuana DUI lawyer immediately can result in missed deadlines or waiver of other important rights.
Lastly, there is no reason you shouldn’t contact a marijuana DUI lawyer. Any conversation you have with a prospective attorney is protected by the attorney-client privilege, even if you don't end up hiring the lawyer.
At JPLaw, P.C. initial consultations with a marijuana DUI lawyer are always free of charge. We believe everyone should have the chance to speak with a competent lawyer who’s ready to zealously fight for them. Contact JPLaw, P.C. to schedule your FREE consultation today!
Contact An Orange County Marijuana DUI Lawyer
If you're facing the complexities of a marijuana DUI charge in Orange County, we're here to provide expert guidance and unwavering support. At JPLaw, P.C. you can speak directly with an experienced legal professional that is well versed in marijuana DUI defense.
With in-depth knowledge of California's evolving laws and a track record of successful outcomes, JPLaw, P.C. is ready to protect your rights and build a solid defense strategy. Don't let a marijuana DUI jeopardize your future – call now for a confidential consultation. Your peace of mind and a favorable resolution are just a phone call away!