Operating a motor vehicle in California under any kind of impairment, caused by either alcohol or drugs, is a serious offense, but the law does not treat the two exactly the same. For example, if you are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, you generally have the option of submitting to a breath test. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of drugs, you will not have this luxury, because alcohol breath tests can’t detect drugs. Therefore, you will most likely be required to submit to a blood test – sometimes, however, a urine test may be allowed.
It’s Not the Drug that Counts
Contrary to popular belief, it is not the type or even amount of a drug that you consume that the law is primarily concerned with, it is your level of impairment behind the wheel. Even impairment resulting from entirely legal drugs, like cough syrup and sleeping aides, can result in a DUI conviction.
No Automatic License Suspension
One interesting nuance of being charged with driving under the influence of drugs is that the DMV will not automatically suspend your license the way they will if you are charged with a DUI. There are exceptions to this rule, like if you also fail a breath test for alcohol or if you refuse to consent to chemical testing, which is mandatory under California’s implied consent laws.
If you are arrested for driving under the influence of drugs, the officers who arrested you will no doubt testify at your trial on their observations during the initial investigation. They can mention your demeanor during contact, your driving patterns that made them pull you over in the first place, and your performance on any field sobriety tests, which are tests administered by police officers in the field to gauge sobriety.
What May Be Refused
While submission to a chemical test might be mandatory, there are several police procedures which are not mandatory and which can be refused by anyone accused of driving under the influence of drugs in California. For example, field sobriety tests can be refused. These tests, which are the ones that would require you to walk a straight line or balance on one leg, are often too hard for even sober people to pass and the tests provide no accurate indication of impairment.
Answering questions may also be refused, but you have to do it right. Many police questions are asked before an actual arrest is made, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that prior to an arrest and rights advisement, you are not afforded the protections of the 5th amendment (the one that protects your right not to incriminate yourself), unless you make an obvious indication that you are exercising your right to remain silent. Simply telling a police officer that you are exercising your right to remain silent at the very top of a police encounter will ensure that you receive the benefit of the 5th amendment. You will want to exercise the right quickly, because falling silent at a certain point in questioning or simply refusing to answer a line of questioning may actually be used against you as evidence of a guilty conscience if you do not invoke the right to remain silent.