Though most DUIs (driving under the influence) in California involve the use of alcohol or illegal drugs, an increasing number of DUI prosecutions are for legitimate prescription drugs that are legally possessed and taken by patients. California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) makes a criminal offense to operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Because they have the same end effect of impairing the driver, the statute does not differentiate between legally prescribed medicines and illegal street drugs or alcohol. This makes doctor prescribed medicines such as pain killers, amphetamines, sleep aids, and marijuana identical to alcohol for the purposes of charging a driver with DUI.

In the early 1970s, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers noticed that many of the individuals arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) had very low or even zero alcohol concentrations. The officers reasonably suspected that the arrestee was under the influence of drugs, but lacked the knowledge, skills, or any method to measure drug influence that would support their suspicions.

In response, the LAPD collaborated with various medical doctors, research psychologists, and other medical professionals to develop a simple, standardized procedure for recognizing drug influence and impairment. Those efforts resulted in the development of a multi-step, standardized protocol to detect drug usage. Subsequently, formal training in this methodology was (and still is) conducted for police personnel under a program called the Drug Recognition Expert (“DRE”) program.

This program trains police officers to become drug recognition experts or drug recognition evaluators (DRE). These officer can recognize impairment in drivers under the influence of drugs other than, or in addition to, alcohol. California law enforcement agencies have come to rely on DRE officers to conduct field tests in order to determine whether a driver is under the influence of drugs.

Daniel R. Perlman, Esq.

Law Offices of Daniel R. Perlman