Prescription Drug Use While Driving Can Lead to Being Charged With DUI

santa rosa dui lawyer, santa rosa dui attorney, petaluma dui lawyer, ukiah dui attorneyDid you know that you could be charged with DUI and arrested for for taking prescription medication?  That’s right, it happens all the time.  Police Officers in Santa Rosa and throughout Sonoma County , Mendocino County and Lake County are trained to ask you whether you have been taking any medications.  According to California’s statutory scheme, the driver of a motor vehicle has consented to testing of his or her blood in order to determine the drug content of his or her blood.  Officers are trained to draw blood from drivers who they have probable cause to believe have driven while under the influence of a drug.

In California, you can be cited for DUI for driving under the influence of “any drug.”  According to well-established California case law, a drug is any substance other than alcohol that could impair driving ability.  Appellate Courts in California have even found that substances are drugs even when taken for necessary medical purposes.  For example, insulin, even when taken for diabetes, is considered a drug under California’s DUI laws.

Involuntary Intoxication – A Defense to Drug-Related DUI Charges?

There have been a few opinions that were helpful to specific defendants who drove under the influence of prescription medications.  For example, after Ricky Jay Holloway in Tulomne County tested positive for driving under the influence of three prescription medications—Klonopin, Vicodin and Soma, Appellate Justice Kane held that Ricky Jay was entitled to an instruction to members of the jury that a person can be involuntary intoxicated if he or she knowingly ingests a prescription medication but did not know or have reason to anticipate its intoxicating side effects.  Involuntary intoxication is a defense which, if proved, allows a defendant to avoid criminal responsibility for his or her acts which occurred while she or he was involuntarily intoxicated.

Situations that clearly qualify as involuntary intoxication include the unknowing ingestion of an intoxicating substance, usually due to trickery or mistake, such as unknowingly drinking a “spiked” punch or consuming a medication believing it to be candy.  According to Justice Kane, a less clear-cut case of involuntary intoxication can involve the knowing ingestion of prescription medications.  In support of his opinion, Justice Kane cited cases from Colorado, Illinois, Florida, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and various other jurisdictions which clearly came down in favor of the position that involuntary intoxication can be caused by voluntarily ingesting a prescription medication.  Justice Kane also cited a variety of California cases that were relevant, but not quite so clear-cut.

Justice Kane:  California’s Jury Instruction Regarding Involuntary Intoxication Can Be Modified to Indicate that a Person May Be Involuntarily Intoxicated if she or he Knowingly Ingests a Prescription Medication Without Reason to Anticipate its Intoxicating Side Effects

Ultimately, Justice Kane decided that it was appropriate to modify the jury instruction provided by California’s Judicial Council (CALCRIM No. 3427) which is typically used to explain involuntary intoxication to jurors, to fix the fact that the instruction does not make any mention of the idea that a person can be involuntarily intoxicated if she or he knowingly ingests a prescription medication without reason to anticipate its intoxicating effects.

California Supreme Court Orders Kane’s Opinion Not to be Published

For a little while, Justice Kane’s opinion was published and became the law of the land in all of California.  However, the California Supreme Court ordered his opinion not to be published, which means that your criminal lawyer cannot cite this case in your defense anymore if you are charged with a DUI for drugs.  A skillful criminal defense lawyer may be able to ask your trial judge to instruct the jury that you should not be found guilty of a drug-related DUI if they determine that you were involuntarily intoxicated as a result of use of a prescription drug, but currently there is no binding authority which absolutely requires the judge to give such an instruction.  In fact, it seems that the deck is stacked against persons driving under the influence of a drug they are legally permitted to ingest, because California’s statutory scheme has explicitly prevented criminal defendants from using the legality of their drug use as a defense to a drug-related DUI charge.

What does all this mean for you?  It means that if you choose to drive while under the influence of a prescription medication which could impair your driving ability, you may be at risk for being arrested for a drug-related DUI.  If you would like help understanding whether you are at risk, or if you or anyone you know has already been charged with a DUI for prescription drug use, contact our office to discuss the risks or explore the possibility that you may have a meritorious defense to the charges you or your friend may be facing.


The information on this website should not be considered to be legal advice, nor construed to be the formation of any manner of attorney client relationship. Prior to taking any form of legal action, please consult with an attorney experienced in the appropriate area of law germane to your situation. Case results and any blogs, reviews, news or testimonials presented on or any of its related websites are germane to the facts present for each individual case and is not a promise of similar outcomes for any other cases. This website is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of California. by Attorney Daniel B. Beck