Marijuana DUI in California: Understanding Your Rights and Responsibilities

What Constitutes a Marijuana DUI in California?

In California, driving under the influence of marijuana constitutes a violation of Vehicle Code 23152(f). This law makes it illegal to operate a vehicle if you are impaired by marijuana or any other drug. Being “under the influence” means that due to marijuana consumption, your physical or mental abilities are impaired to the extent that you can no longer drive as a reasonably cautious sober person would under similar circumstances.

Understanding the legal definition is crucial because it sets the parameters for what constitutes illegal behavior under state law. It’s not solely about the presence of marijuana in your system; rather, it’s about how it affects your capacity to drive safely.

How Is Impairment Measured for Marijuana DUI in California?

Measuring impairment from marijuana for DUI cases in California involves subjective assessments and biological testing due to the absence of a standardized legal THC limit:

Field Sobriety Tests (FSTs): Law enforcement officers may administer a series of physical and cognitive tests to evaluate a driver’s impairment at the roadside. These tests can include tasks designed to assess balance, coordination, and the ability to follow instructions. Despite their widespread use, the effectiveness of FSTs to gauge marijuana impairment is debated due to their subjective nature and potential for officer bias.

Chemical Testing: Chemical testing, primarily through blood samples, is utilized to detect the presence of THC in a driver’s system. Unlike alcohol, where impairment is legally defined at a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08%, no such threshold exists for THC. This presents challenges, as THC can remain in the bloodstream long after its psychoactive effects have subsided, complicating determinations of impairment at the time of driving.

In the absence of a definitive THC threshold, California courts must consider the totality of evidence presented, including observed signs of impairment, the results of FSTs, and the specific circumstances of the arrest. Each case requires a thorough evaluation of how the detected levels of THC may correlate with impairment, relying on expert testimony and scientific studies to inform judgments

What Are the Penalties for a Marijuana DUI in California?

  • Misdemeanor Charges: Generally, Marijuana DUI is charged as a misdemeanor, particularly for first-time offenders. This includes:
    • Jail Time: Offenders may face between 96 hours and 6 months in county jail.
    • Fines: Fines for a first-time Marijuana DUI range from $390 to $1,000.
    • License Suspension: A first offense usually results in a six-month suspension of driving privileges.
    • Probation: Typically, offenders may be placed on informal probation for 3 to 5 months, which may include conditions like DUI education programs and regular drug testing.
  • Wobbler Offense: Under California Vehicle Code 23152(f), a Marijuana DUI becomes a wobbler offense if the incident involves an injury. This means the prosecution can choose to charge the offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony based on the severity of the injuries and the circumstances of the incident.
  • Felony Charges: Marijuana DUI may escalate to a felony under certain conditions:
    • Previous Convictions: If the driver has three or more prior DUI or “wet reckless” convictions within the past ten years.
    • Serious Injury or Death: If the DUI results in serious bodily injury or the death of another party.
    • Prior Felony DUI: If the driver has a prior felony DUI conviction from any time within the last ten years.
  • Penalties for Felony DUI:
    • State Prison: Conviction may result in a state prison sentence.
    • Extended License Suspension: The driver’s license may be suspended for one year or longer.
    • Formal Probation: Offenders may be placed on felony probation, which includes stricter monitoring and compliance requirements.

Can You Refuse a Chemical Test for Marijuana?

Under California’s implied consent law, you automatically agree to submit to chemical testing if lawfully arrested for DUI. This law applies to tests conducted after an arrest, not necessarily those requested during a traffic stop before an arrest is made.

  1. Consequences of Refusal: If you refuse a chemical test after being arrested for a suspected Marijuana DUI, you face automatic penalties. These include a one-year suspension of your driver’s license for a first offense, which escalates with further refusals or DUI convictions.
  2. Impact on DUI Case: Refusing a chemical test can also affect the prosecution of your DUI case. While refusal might prevent the state from obtaining direct evidence of your THC levels, it could lead to enhanced penalties under the assumption of guilt for impairment.

Refusal to undergo required testing can significantly complicate your legal situation. It is seen as non-compliance and can be used by the prosecution to infer that you were trying to hide your level of impairment.

How Can You Defend Against a Marijuana DUI Charge?

  • Challenging the Legality of the Stop: If the stop was initiated without probable cause, any evidence collected thereafter could be considered inadmissible.
  • Accuracy of Testing Methods: Attacking the reliability of THC measurements in blood tests, as there is no established threshold for impairment with marijuana similar to the blood alcohol content levels used in alcohol-related DUIs.
  • Cross-Examination of Officers: An experienced DUI attorney might expose flaws in the training or interpretations of the Drug Recognition Experts (DREs), particularly regarding their conclusions about impairment.
  • Temporal Discrepancy in THC Effects: Unlike alcohol, THC can remain detectable in the bloodstream long after its psychoactive effects have worn off. Demonstrating that THC levels do not correlate directly with impairment at the time of driving is another defensive approach.

What Impact Does a Marijuana DUI Have on Your Driving Record?

  • Permanent Record: A marijuana DUI conviction will remain on your driving record, which can influence future legal and administrative decisions regarding your driving privileges.
  • Insurance Implications: Insurance companies often increase premiums or even deny coverage to individuals convicted of a DUI, seeing them as high-risk drivers.
  • Employment Consequences: Jobs that require clean driving records or involve operation of vehicles may become inaccessible. Employers in industries like transportation, logistics, and those requiring commercial driving licenses might reject candidates with a DUI record.
  • Background Checks: A DUI record will show up in background checks, potentially impacting future employment opportunities, especially in roles involving trust and responsibility.

Navigating the Legal System After a Marijuana DUI Arrest

  1. Immediate Action: As soon as possible after your arrest, document everything you can remember about the arrest and any interactions with law enforcement. This information can be crucial for your defense.
  2. Legal Representation: Consult with a qualified DUI attorney who specializes in marijuana-related cases. The right attorney can make a profound difference in your case by challenging the evidence and arguing for the best possible outcome.

Los Angeles defense attorney advising a client on Marijuana DUI chargesThe Law Offices of Arash Hashemi is well-equipped to handle the nuances of Marijuana DUI charges. With over 20 years of experience in criminal defense, Attorney Arash Hashemi has successfully navigated clients through the complexities of California’s DUI laws, including cases involving marijuana impairment.

Contact our office at (310) 448-1529. Located in the Westside Towers of Los Angeles, we are ideally positioned to serve clients throughout Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Westwood. Our firm is committed to delivering professional and dedicated legal representation, aiming to achieve the most favorable outcomes for each of our clients.

Don’t face this challenging time alone. The right legal team can help you manage the legal hurdles and minimize the impact of a DUI arrest on your life. Reach out today to schedule a consultation.

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