Driving While Addicted to Drugs
California Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC

Under Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC, driving while addicted to drugs is considered a form of California DUI. A conviction for driving while addicted will subject you to California DUI penalties.1

However, VC 23152(c) penalties do not apply to people who are participating in certain approved drug treatment programs.2

Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC reads: "(c) 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."

Most first, second and third instances of driving while addicted to a drug are California misdemeanors.  But fourth and subsequent offenses can be charged as felony DUI

Cocaine-with-razor-blade
Driving while addicted to a drug like cocaine is a form of DUI in California

In practice, California's "driving while addicted to drugs" law is rarely enforced. However, it is still a part of California DUI law and can lead to serious consequences for individuals who are convicted under VC 23152(c)--particularly those who have other DUI priors on their record. 

Below, our California criminal and drug crimes defense attorneys address the following:

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

1. What is the Legal Definition of Driving While Addicted Under VC 23152(c)?

Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC driving while addicted to drugs consists of the following "elements of the crime":

  1. You drove a vehicle; and
  2. While you drove, you were addicted to a drug.3

 Note that you do not need to be under the influence of drugs to be guilty of VC 23152(c) driving while addicted. (Driving under the influence of drugs would be prosecuted separately under Vehicle Code 23152(e)).4)

1.1. What counts as a drug under VC 23152(c)?

California DUI law, including driving while addicted law, defines a "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 his or her ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious person would drive under similar circumstances.5

Note that the crime of driving while addicted to drugs does not only apply to illegal drugs like cocaine and marijuana. It can also apply to drugs that you can possess legally--including prescription drugs like Vicodin or hydrocodone.6

Example: William is injured at work and is prescribed Vicodin for the intense pain he is experiencing. The stress of the injury and of not being able to work while he recovers leads William to start taking more Vicodin than he needs. Within a few weeks he is biologically and psychologically dependent on the drug.

William continues to drive for errands even after he develops his addiction to Vicodin. Technically he is now guilty of a form of DUI--VC 23152(c) driving while addicted.

1.2. What is the definition of "addicted to drugs" under California DUI law?

You are considered to be "addicted to drugs" under Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC only if all of the following are true:

  1. You have become physically dependent on the drug and will suffer withdrawal symptoms if you are deprived of it;
  2. You have developed a tolerance to the drug's effects and therefore require larger and more potent doses; and
  3.  You have become emotionally dependent on the drug and experience a compulsive need to continue its use.7

Example: Anna is a heavy user of heroin. She has tried to quit several times but each time suffered severe physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms and started using again. She also needs to "shoot up" several times a day because she has a high tolerance to the drug's effects.

One day Anna is pulled over for driving erratically. It has been hours since she last used heroin, and she is actually on her way to her dealer's house to buy more. The officer who pulls her over notices that she is anxious and sweating. Her suspects her of VC 23152(e) driving under the influence of drugs and arrests her.

Anna's DUI drugs investigation reveals that she was not under the influence of drugs while driving. But it also reveals that she is a heroin addict. If the prosecutor chooses, he can charge Anna with driving while addicted to a drug under VC 23152(c)--which could subject her to the same penalties as if she had actually been driving under the influence of heroin!

Fortunately, California's addicted driving law does carve out an exception for people who are enrolled in an approved drug treatment program. People enrolled in those programs are free to drive their vehicles without worrying about being charged with DUI for driving while addicted.8 

2. What are the Penalties for Driving While Addicted to Drugs under California's DUI Laws?

Most first, second and third instances of DUI, including Vehicle Code 23152(c) driving while addicted, are misdemeanors.9  Fourth and subsequent offenses are typically charged as felony DUI.10 

The following are the guidelines for the consequences of a "straight forward" first-time misdemeanor DUI offense, which also apply to driving while addicted convictions:

  • three to five years of informal DUI probation,
  • a minimum $390 fine (which, after penalties and assessments is more like $1800),
  • a maximum of six months in a county jail, although most counties don't impose jail time on first offense cases with no aggravating factors
  • a DMV driver's license suspension for at least six months, and
  • a minimum three-month drug education class, known as California DUI school.11

The penalties for second and subsequent driving while addicted offenses typically include fines, probation, and DUI school but also include a longer driver's license suspension and a mandatory jail sentence that automatically increase with each subsequent VC 23152(c) (or other DUI) conviction.12

Note that ALL forms of California DUI--including VC 23152(a) driving under the influence of alcohol, VC 23152(b) driving with a BAC of 0.08 or greater, and DUI of drugs--count as priors for purposes of VC 23152(c) driving while addicted penalties.

Example: Irma has had drug problems much of her life and has already been convicted of driving under the influence of drugs twice and driving under the influence of alcohol once. Now she is careful to avoid driving after using drugs. But she is still addicted to methamphetamine.

Unfortunately for Irma, one day while driving she is pulled over for running a stop sign and manages to get on the officer's bad side. He books her for DUI even though she is not under the influence. An investigation reveals her current problems with drugs, and given her record the prosecutor decides to charge her with VC 23152(c) driving while addicted.

This means Irma will have a fourth, more serious DUI on her record if she's convicted.

3. How Can I Fight Vehicle Code 23152(c) Charges?

According to Lancaster DUI defense attorney John Murray13:

"California's law against driving while addicted to a drug is difficult to enforce and is rarely enforced. But that doesn't mean it is never enforced. Prosecutors are most likely to hit a person with VC 23152(c) charges if that person already has a number of DUI priors and if they had hoped to charge him or her with VC 23152(e) driving under the influence of drugs--but didn't have the right evidence to make that charge stick."

Common legal defenses that you and your DUI defense attorney can use to fight charges of addicted driving include:

You are not actually addicted to a drug

Everybody knows that there is a lot of gray area in defining who is addicted to a drug and who is not. Casual use of a drug, even if that use is frequent, is not the same thing as addiction.

If the prosecutor does not have hard evidence that you meet the legal definition of a drug addict under Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC, you are not guilty of that crime.

You were enrolled in a drug treatment program at the time of your arrest

California's law against driving while addicted to a drug makes a clear exception for people who are enrolled in a narcotic treatment program. Enrollment in such a program at the time you were caught driving is an ironclad legal defense to VC 23152(c).

Call us for help...

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If you or loved one is charged with Vehicle Code 23152(c) driving while addicted to drugs and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada DUI defense attorneys are available to answer any questions relating to Nevada's drunk driving laws. 

Additional Resources:

Narcotics Anonymous

List of California Drug Treatment Centers that Accept Medicaid


Legal References:

  1.  Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC -- Driving while addicted to drugs. ("(c) 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.")
  2. Same.
  3. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions ("CALCRIM") 2112 -- Driving While Addicted to a Drug (Veh. Code, § 23152(c)). ("The defendant is charged [in Count ] with driving while addicted to a drug [in violation of Vehicle Code section 23152(c)]. To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that: 1. The defendant drove a vehicle; AND 2. When (he/she) drove, the defendant was addicted to a drug.")
  4. Vehicle Code 23152(e) VC -- Driving under the influence of drugs [related offense to driving while addicted].
  5. Vehicle Code 312 VC -- Drug [definition that applies to VC 23152(c)]. ("The term “drug” means 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.")
  6. CALCRIM 2112 -- Driving While Addicted to a Drug (Veh. Code, § 23152(c)).("[It is not a defense that the defendant was legally entitled to use the drug.]")
  7. CALCRIM 2112 -- Driving While Addicted to a Drug (Veh. Code, § 23152(c)). (" A person is addicted to a drug if he or she: 1. Has become physically dependent on the drug, suffering withdrawal symptoms if he or she is deprived of it; 2. Has developed a tolerance to the drug's effects and therefore requires larger and more potent doses; AND 3. Has become emotionally dependent on the drug, experiencing a compulsive need to continue its use.")
  8. Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC -- Driving while addicted to drugs, endnote 1 above.
  9. Vehicle Code 23536 VC; Vehicle Code 23540 VC: Vehicle Code 23546 VC [penalties for first through third DUIs, including VC 23152(c) driving while addicted].
  10. Vehicle Code 23550 VC [penalties for fourth and subsequent DUIs, including VC 23152(c) driving while addicted].
  11. See endnote 9 above. See also Vehicle Code 23600 VC [on probation for DUI, including Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC DUI by driving while addicted to a drug].
  12. See endnote 10 above.
  13. Lancaster DUI defense attorney John Murray represents clients accused of violating California's DUI laws, including California's driving while addicted law, at the Ventura Hall of Justice, the Van Nuys courthouse, the Pasadena courthouse, the Burbank courthouse, the Glendale courthouse, the Lancaster courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, and the Criminal Courts Building.

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