Driving Under the Influence of Methamphetamine

California Vehicle Code 23152(a) prohibits driving under the influence of drugs (DUID).

"Drugs" are defined as any substance other than alcohol that could affect your nervous system, brain or muscles. They include prescription, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs.

You drive under the influence of drugs when drugs impair you so that you can no longer drive like a sober person under similar circumstances.1

How methamphetamine can impair driving

Methamphetamine -- also called meth, crystal, crystal meth, speed, blow, rock, tina, chalk, ice, glass, and crank -- is a nervous system stimulant.2

In the United States, methamphetamine is legally used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).3 It is also prescribed, although more rarely, to treat obesity.4 Most methamphetamine in California, however, is illegally produced.5


Historically, methamphetamine has been used in improve athletic performance and endurance, to help truckers complete their long hauls without falling asleep.6 It was used by both Allied and Axis soldiers as an "alertness aid" during World War II.7

It may seem odd that something used to improve performance and alertness could actually impair driving. But methamphetamine can cause side effects that may impair your thinking or reactions.

In small amounts, methamphetamine can cause:

  • increased wakefulness,
  • increased physical activity,
  • increased respiration,
  • rapid heart rate,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • increased blood pressure, and
  • hyperthermia [excessive body heat].8

When abused, methamphetamine can also cause:

  • anxiety,
  • confusion,
  • insomnia,
  • mood disturbances,
  • violent behavior,
  • paranoia,
  • hallucinations, and
  • delusions (for example, the sensation of insects crawling under the skin).9

Because of its potential for adverse effects, methamphetamine could impair a person's ability to drive a vehicle in a reasonably prudent manner. As such, it qualifies as a drug for purposes of Vehicle Code section 23152(a).10

Traffic stops and arrests for DUI of methamphetamine

If your driving patterns suggest a California DUI, a police officer has "probable cause" for a DUI traffic stop.

The officer will pull you over and ask for your license and registration. He/she will ask you some questions, such as whether you have been drinking or using drugs. The officer will be looking to see if you are confused, or fumble, or otherwise seem mentally or physically impaired.

The officer may ask you to take some field sobriety tests (FSTs). He/she may also ask you to blow into a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) breath testing device.

Unless you are under 2111 or on DUI probation12 , these pre-arrest tests are optional. There is no penalty for declining to take them.

If you perform poorly on the FSTs -- or if you decline to take them but the officer nevertheless has reasonable suspicion that you are DUI -- you may be arrested.

If you are arrested for a DUI, you must submit to a "chemical test" if asked.13 This is so whether or not you took the PAS breath test.

When driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), California Vehicle Code 23152(a), is suspected, you may initially be given the choice of a DUI breath test or DUI blood test.14 However, even if you choose a breath test, you may also be required to submit to a blood test if the officer has a clear indication that it would show the presence of drugs.15

The presence of methamphetamine could be clearly indicated by such things as:

  • your admission to having used methamphetamine or other drugs;
  • objective physical symptoms such as agitation and dilated pupils;
  • a PAS test that indicates little or no alcohol in your system; and/or
  • the presence of drug paraphernalia, such as a meth pipe, in your car.16

You may not refuse to take a post-arrest test for drugs. Refusal to take a California DUI chemical test will result in:

  • the immediate suspension of your license, and
  • a fine and extra jail time if you are ultimately convicted of DUI.17
Penalties for DUI of methamphetamine

DUI of drugs is generally a misdemeanor in California. Penalties are the same as for any other DUI offense.

For a "typical" first-time misdemeanor DUID conviction, these can include:

  • 3 to 5 years of DUI probation;
  • fines (starting at around $1,800),
  • completion of a three-month California DUI school,
  • suspension of your driver's license, and
  • a possible jail sentence, depending on your prior record (if any) and the circumstances.

DUID may be charged as a felony if:

  • it's your fourth or subsequent DUI offense,
  • you have a prior felony DUI conviction, or
  • your driving resulted in an accident that injured a third party.

Punishment for felony DUI can include time in the California State Prison.18

For more information on punishment for DUID, please see our article on California DUI Penalties.

Legal defenses to charges of DUI of methamphetamine

If you or someone you know has been arrested for California DUI of methamphetamine, don't panic.

Remember -- unlike alcohol, drugs do not have a pre-determined legal limit. Even if you are found to have methamphetamine in your blood, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that it actually impaired your driving.

In addition, the police must follow strict procedures during every step of the traffic stop, arrest and chemical testing.

Your California DUI defense attorney will discuss with you the best legal strategy for your case. Some common legal defenses to DUID include (but are not limited to):

There was no probable cause for the traffic stop.

Other than at California DUI sobriety checkpoints, police must have "probable cause" for a DUI traffic stop. This means they must actually observe you committing a traffic violation or driving unsafely.

Otherwise, a stop might violation your Fourth Amendment constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.19 If it does, your DUI case should be tossed.

Your DUI chemical testing was not conducted according to procedures.

Title 17 of the California Code of Regulations sets forth procedures that must be strictly adhered to during chemical testing. If even one step was improperly followed, your blood, breath or urine sample could have been contaminated.

You used methamphetamine, but it didn't impair your driving

Just because you had drugs in your system, it does not necessarily mean that you were under their influence so as to constitute a DUI. Other physical conditions -- such as exhaustion or anxiety – could have caused your impairment.

Or maybe you weren't impaired at all.

Remember -- the prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. your driving was impaired, and
  2. your impairment was caused by methamphetamine.

One important note of caution: it is also a crime in California to drive while addicted to a drug (Vehicle Code 23152(c) VC). Addicted driving is considered a form of California DUI and carries DUI penalties.

Prosecutors rarely charge people with driving while addicted to a drug. But if you are caught driving with meth in your system and argue that you were not impaired in spite of this, a zealous prosecutor could try to make the case that you broke the law by driving while addicted.

There was another explanation for your bad driving

While the police like to think that all bad drivers must be DUI, we know this isn't the case. Sometimes people weave or drive erratically because they were momentarily distracted. For instance, perhaps you were:

  • eating,
  • changing the radio station,
  • trying to pick up something you dropped,
  • making a phone call, or
  • talking to someone else in the car.

While these activities may subject you to other vehicle code infractions20 , they do not constitute DUI.

Call us for help...

If you or loved one is charged with a DUI of meth 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 represent clients accused of DUI offenses in Nevada. For more information, please see our article on driving under the influence of methamphetamine in Nevada, or contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.

Legal References:

  1. See California Jury Instructions, Criminal CALJIC 16.830 – "[The term "drug," as used in this instruction, 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] [her] ability to drive a vehicle in the manner that an ordinarily prudent and cautious person, in full possession of [his] [her] faculties, using reasonable care, would drive a similar vehicle under like conditions.]"
  2. See National Institute on Drug Abuse, DrugFacts: Methamphetamine.
  3. See Drugs.com, Methamphetamine.
  4. See same.
  5. See United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Methamphetamine Production and Trafficking.
  6. See Drug Policy Alliance, Methamphetamine facts.
  7. See, e.g., Meredith Bennett-Smith, Nazis Took 'Meth' Pills To Stay Alert, Boost Endurance During World War II, Letters Reveal, The Huffington Post, June 4, 2013.
  8. See NIH DrugFacts: Methamphetamine, endnote 2.
  9. See same.
    See also Drugs.com, Methamphetamine Side Effects.
  10. People v. Benner (2010) 111 Cal.Rptr.3d 98, 185 Cal.App.4th 791, modified on denial of rehearing, review denied.
  11. California Vehicle Code 13388 VC.
  12. California Vehicle Code 13389 VC.
  13. California Vehicle Code 23612(a)(1)(A) – "A person who drives a motor vehicle is deemed to have given his or her consent to chemical testing of his or her blood or breath for the purpose of determining the alcoholic content of his or her blood, if lawfully arrested for an offense allegedly committed in violation of Section 23140 [being under 21 and driving with a BAC of .05-.07], 23152 [DUI], or 23153 [DUI causing injury]...(C) The [breath or blood] testing shall be incidental to a lawful arrest and administered at the direction of a peace officer having reasonable cause to believe the person was driving a motor vehicle in violation of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153."
  14. See California Vehicle Code 23612 (a)(2)(B) – "If the person is lawfully arrested for driving under the influence of any drug or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug, the person has the choice of whether the test shall be of his or her blood or breath, and the officer shall advise the person that he or she has that choice."
  15. See also California Vehicle Code 23612 (a)(2)(C) – "A person who chooses to submit to a breath test may also be requested to submit to a blood test if the officer has reasonable cause to believe that the person was driving under the influence of a drug or the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and a drug and if the officer has a clear indication that a blood test will reveal evidence of the person being under the influence. The officer shall state in his or her report the facts upon which that belief and that clear indication are based. The officer shall advise the person that he or she is required to submit to an additional test."
  16. California Health and Safety Code 11364 makes it illegal to possess drug paraphernalia such as a meth pipe.
  17. California Vehicle Code 23612(a)(1)(D) – "The person shall be told that his or her failure to submit to, or the failure to complete, the required chemical testing will result in a fine, mandatory imprisonment if the person is convicted of a violation of Section 23152 [DUI] or 23153 [DUI with injury], and (i) the suspension of the person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for a period of one year, (ii) the revocation of the person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for a period of two years if the refusal occurs within 10 years of a separate violation of Section 23103 as specified in Section 23103.5, or of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of this code, or of Section 191.5 or subdivision (a) of Section 192.5 of the Penal Code that resulted in a conviction, or if the person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle has been suspended or revoked pursuant to Section 13353, 13353.1, or 13353.2 for an offense that occurred on a separate occasion, or (iii) the revocation of the person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for a period of three years if the refusal occurs within 10 years of two or more separate violations of Section 23103 as specified in Section 23103.5, or of Section 23140, 23152, or 23153 of this code, or of Section 191.5 or subdivision (a) of Section 192.5 of the Penal Code, or any combination thereof, that resulted in convictions, or if the person's privilege to operate a motor vehicle has been suspended or revoked two or more times pursuant to Section 13353, 13353.1, or 13353.2 for offenses that occurred on separate occasions, or if there is any combination of those convictions or administrative suspensions or revocations."
  18. See, e.g., California Vehicle Code 23550.5(a) – "Each person who, having previously been convicted of a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 191.5 of the Penal Code, a felony violation of subdivision (b) of Section 191.5, or a violation of subdivision (a) of Section 192.5 of the Penal Code, is subsequently convicted of a violation of Section 23152 or 23153 is guilty of a public offense punishable by imprisonment in the state prison or confinement in a county jail for not more than one year and by a fine of not less than three hundred ninety dollars ($390) nor more than one thousand dollars ($1,000)."
  19. Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 20 ("But we deal here with an entire rubric of police conduct-necessarily swift action predicated upon the on-the-spot observations of the officer on the beat-which historically has not been, and as a practical matter could not be, subjected to the warrant procedure. Instead, the conduct involved in this case must be tested by the Fourth Amendment's general proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.").
  20. See e.g., California Vehicle Code 23123.5(a) – "A person shall not drive a motor vehicle while using an electronic wireless communications device to write, send, or read a text-based communication, unless the electronic wireless communications device is specifically designed and configured to allow voice-operated and hands-free operation to dictate, send, or listen to a text-based communication, and it is used in that manner while driving."

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