Vehicle Code 21352(c) VC - Driving While Addicted to Drugs in California
It's well-established in California that DUI crimes include driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, such as Vehicle Code 21352(a) VC and Vehicle Code 21352(f), respectively.
But you may not be aware that it's also considered DUI in California to drive a vehicle if you're addicted to drugs—whether or not you're currently under the influence.
The driving while addicted to drugs law has straightforward “elements of the crime.” In other words, to be convicted, the prosecutor only has to prove that (1) you drove a vehicle; and (2) while you drove, you were addicted to a drug.
While not frequently prosecuted, Vehicle Code 21352(c) VC makes it a criminal offense to drive a vehicle while addicted to a drug, which is considered a form of a California DUI.
Notably, VC 23153(c) penalties don't apply to people who are participating in some approved drug treatment programs. As noted, while this driving while addicted to drugs law is rarely prosecuted, it's still a part of the DUI law.
Suppose you are convicted under this statute. In that case, you could face harsh consequences, especially if you have prior DUIs on your record.
VC 23153(c) says, “It is unlawful for a person who is addicted to the use of any drug to drive a vehicle. This subdivision shall not apply to a person who is participating in a narcotic treatment program approved pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 11875) of Chapter 1 of Part 3 of Division 10.5 of the Health and Safety Code.”
If you're convicted of this offense, you could face up to 6 months in county jail, depending on the case facts. If you're convicted of multiple offenses, your charges could be escalated to felony offenses resulting in longer sentences. Let's review this state law further below.
VC 21352(c) - Explained
As noted, the text of the law says it's unlawful for someone addicted to any drug to drive a vehicle." To understand further, let's break down some definitions:
What constitutes addiction?
Under California law, you're considered "addicted" if you meet all of the following criteria:
- You are physically dependent on the drug in question to the point of suffering withdrawal if you stop taking it;
- You require increasingly strong doses of the drug to achieve the desired effect; AND
- You are emotionally dependent on the drug and therefore take it compulsively.
As you can imagine, some of these criteria can be difficult for prosecutors to prove unless they have supporting testimony from expert physicians and mental health experts, which is likely why this particular offense is not always practical to prosecute.
What constitutes a drug?
For DUI purposes, California Vehicle Code 312 VC clearly defines "drug" as “any substance or combination of substances, other than alcohol, which could so affect the nervous system, brain, or muscles of a person as to impair, to an appreciable degree, his ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious man, in full possession of his faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.”
Any of the following could constitute a drug under this definition:
- Illegal substances (e.g., cocaine, heroin);
- Legal substances (e.g., marijuana);
- Prescription drugs (e.g., Vicodin, Valium);
- Over-the-counter medications, which can potentially be addictive;
- Any combination of the above.
Note that alcohol is not listed among these drugs, nor does alcoholism count as a drug addiction for VC 21352(c) purposes.
What is the exception to the rule?
VC 21352(c) makes an explicit exception for drug addicts participating in an approved narcotics treatment program.
If you're addicted to a drug but actively participate in a treatment program, you can drive a vehicle and should not face charges under this statute.
What Are the Penalties for VC 21352(c)?
Driving while addicted to drugs is a misdemeanor crime in California. However, the penalties increase with repeat offenses and four or more offenses will be charged as felonies.
Specifically, the misdemeanor penalties for VC 21352(c) include the following:
- A mandatory base fine of $390, although assessments and fees usually make this fine much higher, up to $1,800;
- Up to 6 months in jail, usually reserved for repeat offenders;
- Six-month suspension of your driver's license;
- Mandatory participation in "DUI school," a 3-month drug education course.
In many cases, especially for first offenders, the judge will impose 3-5 years DUI probation instead of jail time for VC 23152(c) offenses.
Suppose you have a second or more subsequent driving while addicted offenses. In that case, the penalties typically include hefty fines, probation, and DUI school.
Further, it could include a longer driver's license suspension and a mandatory jail sentence that will automatically increase with each subsequent conviction under VC 23152(c) or other DUI laws.
What Are the Defenses for VC 21352(c)?
A skilled California criminal defense attorney can frequently implement one or more effective strategies to counter charges under VC 21352c, as discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue that you are in treatment. If you and your attorney can provide evidence of your enrollment in an approved treatment program, this qualifies you for an exemption from prosecution under VC 21352(c).
Also, while not a guarantee, enrolling in a treatment program after your arrest and before your trial can demonstrate your will to cooperate, and your attorney may be able to use this either to get the charges dropped or to reduce your penalties.
Perhaps we can argue that you are not addicted to a drug. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that you are legally addicted to the drug—and that can be challenging without hard evidence or expert testimony. Your attorney may argue that your drug use is isolated or casual, which may suffice to get the charge dropped.
Perhaps we can argue that you did not drive a vehicle while addicted. Your attorney may say, for example, that you may have entered a car and sat in the driver's seat, but you didn't actually start the vehicle or put it in motion.
If you were charged with driving while addicted to drugs, contact us by phone or use the contact form to review the case details. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.