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Driving While Addicted


California Vehicle Code section 23152(c) provides: “It is unlawful for any person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

Yup, you read that right. It is illegal to drive a vehicle if you are an “addict.” You’re probably asking yourself the same questions that the California Supreme Court had to answer in 1965 in the case of People v. O’Neil: What’s the purpose? And who is considered an addict?

The California Supreme Court addressed both of these issues by looking at the legislative intent of 23152(c). The court determined that “when an individual has reached the point that his body reacts physically to the termination of drug administration, he has become ‘addicted’ within the meaning and purpose of [23152(c)]. Although physical dependency or the abstinence syndrome is but one of the characteristics of addiction, it is of crucial import in light of the purpose of [23152(c)] since it renders the individual a potential danger on the highway.”

In other words, the Court focused on the effects of drug withdrawal. The Court believed that a person who is an addict and going through withdrawal can pose a danger while driving. The definition of “addicted” for purposes of 23152(c) was based on this theory.

In addition to the elements of driving a vehicle, the Court went on to enunciate that “[t]he prosecution need not prove that the individual was actually in a state of withdrawal while driving the vehicle. The prosecution’s burden is to show (1) that the defendant has become ‘emotionally dependent’ on the drug in the sense that he experiences a compulsive need to continue its use, (2) that he has developed a ‘tolerance’ to its effects and hence requires larger and more potent doses, and (3) that he has become ‘physically dependent’ so as to suffer withdrawal symptoms if he is deprived of his dosage.”

Driving while addicted is a misdemeanor and no felony counterpart exists. It should also be noted that 23152(c) also states that “[23152(c)] shall not apply to a person who is participating in a narcotic treatment program…”

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