Most people are, at the very minimum, vaguely familiar with California’s DUI laws. They know that you cannot drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs and they know that they cannot drive with a 0.08 percent blood alcohol content or greater. What many people are completely unaware of, however, is that it is also illegal to drive while addicted to any drug.
Included with California’s more well-known DUI laws is California Vehicle Code section 23152(c) which reads, “It is unlawful for any person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle.”
In the 1965 case of People v. O’Neil, the California Supreme Court attempted to elaborate on the statute by looking at the legislative intent of 23152(c). The court said 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.”
While the court focused on the theory that an addict going through withdrawals can pose a risk to the roads, it said that a person need not be going through withdrawals to be arrested, charged, and convicted of California’s driving while addicted law.
“The 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.”
In other words, a person can be charged and convicted under California Vehicle Code section 23152(c) if they are “addicted” even though they’re not currently intoxicated or going through withdrawals while driving.
Most people agree about the purpose behind California’s DUI laws; keep the streets safe from people who might be under the influence. But a person who is addicted to a drug may not necessarily be under the influence or even going through withdrawals. This leads me to ask, “What’s the point?”