DUIs for Substances other than Alcohol
Many are not aware that it is possible to get a DUI from a substance other than alcohol. The very definition of a DUI is “driving under the influence,” and this can be driving under the influence of any substance that may alter or impair your driving ability. A prescription substance, such as Xanax, is included in this (i.e., Xanax DUI)
California Vehicle Code 23152(f) Defined
California Vehicle Code 23152(f) (VC 23152(f)) is the law that governs whether you are driving under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance, i.e., a drug like Xanax.
In California, it is legal for a person to drive while on Xanax IF they were legally prescribed the Xanax AND they are not under the influence of the drug.
However, if you illegally obtained the Xanax (i.e., you don’t have a prescription for it), it is always illegal to drive while having ingested Xanax. Ingesting Xanax and driving will result in an automatic Xanax DUI arrest and charge.
Since the law on Xanax possession and after having ingested Xanax is so complicated, it is a good rule of thumb to always have your Xanax prescription on your person. Whether it be in the car, in your purse, or backpack, that way, if you are ever questioned about whether you are in legal possession of the Xanax, you can prove on the spot that you are in lawful possession.
However, again, if you have obtained the Xanax without a legal prescription, is it illegal to be driving with any amount of Xanax in your system.
Testing for a Xanax DUI vs. Alcohol DUI
Unlike alcohol, there is no legal limit, such as .08%, used to determine if someone is driving under the influence of Xanax. As such, police officers must use other means to decide whether or not you are under the influence of Xanax. This may require a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) to make the scene of the traffic stop.
A DRE is a specially trained police officer who knows how to detect if someone has ingested and is under the influence of a controlled substance in other ways than chemical testing.
Suppose law enforcement has sufficient probable cause to believe that the driver is under the influence of Xanax or another drug; in that case, the driver will be arrested and taken in for chemical testing.
Blood Testing in Xanax DUI Traffic Stops
Once you are arrested, you will most likely have to submit to a blood test since a breathalyzer does not work for Xanax DUIs. The only exceptions that excuse submitting to a blood test are for hemophiliacs or for individuals who take coagulants for a heart condition.
The blood sample is then stored and transported to the crime laboratory for toxicology testing. This testing will determine what drugs are in your system and the levels of each.
Under Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations, DUI blood tests must be performed by a trained technician who uses proper medical practices for the results of the blood test to be admissible against someone later in court.
Xanax will present itself in a blood test; it will not come up in a breathe exam. Thus, if Xanax appears as a positive result on your blood sample results, you can be properly charged with a Xanax DUI.
Will I still be Booked in Jail?
The blood sample results aren’t known immediately, which means you will likely be taken to jail and have to post a bond for release prior to determining whether you were under the influence or not.
Possible Defenses to a Xanax DUI
Once you are arrested for any crime, it is always advisable to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney will better understand the law and explain all your options to you.
Just because you were arrested for a Xanax DUI doesn’t mean there aren’t any valid defenses.
The first is ALWAYS to determine whether you have a prescription and if it was still legally valid at the time of the traffic stop and arrest. If it was, then your attorney may be able to negotiate a dismissal of the case or a very much reduced charge.
If you don’t have a valid prescription, your attorney can still challenge the traffic stop itself, the chemical testing, and the searches conducted by the officers.
You have options, and an experienced criminal defense attorney can explain them to you.
Potential Punishments for a Xanax DUI
A drug DUI or a Xanax DUI is a wobbler offense in California. A “wobbler offense” means that it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a case, such as multiple prior convictions, injuries to others while under the influence, and property damage while under the influence.
If charged as a misdemeanor, penalties for the crime can include jail time, up to five years of probation, a monetary fine, drug treatment, and/or a driver’s license suspension.
If charged as a felony, penalties for the offense can include up to three years in prison, a monetary fine, drug treatment, and/or a driver’s license suspension.