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Is driving on Xanax illegal in California?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Mar 01, 2019 | 0 Comments

xanax pills
Alprazolam also commonly known as Xanax

Xanax is a drug that can be legally prescribed in California. If a person has a legal prescription for Xanax, it is lawful for him to drive after taking the drug, if taken as a medication.

However, it is illegal under California Vehicle Code 23152(f) for a motorist to drive under the influence of drugs (DUID). A driver is guilty of DUID if he can no longer drive like a sober person under similar circumstances due to the taking of any drug (including Xanax). This is no matter if the drug is illegal, prescription or over-the-counter.

DUID is a wobbler offense in California, meaning it can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a case.

If charged as a misdemeanor, penalties for the crime can include:

  • jail time,
  • a substantial fine, and/or
  • a driver's license suspension.

If charged as a felony, penalties for the offense can include:

  • up to three years in jail, and/or
  • a substantial fine.

What is California Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC?

It is legal for a person to drive in California, while on Xanax, provided that the motorist has a legal prescription for the drug and is not under the influence.

But, VC 23152(f) is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to drive under the influence of drugs. This means it is a crime for a driver if he can no longer drive like a sober person because of taking too much Xanax (or any other drug for that matter).

California has no specific “legal limit” for drugs that corresponds to the .08% BAC legal limit for alcohol.

So, California law simply states that it is illegal for someone to drive:

  • while “under the influence” of drugs,
  • while “under the combined influence” of drugs and alcohol, or
  • while addicted to any drug (unless receiving treatment for the addiction under an approved program).

What are the penalties for violating Vehicle Code 23152(f) VC?

DUID is a wobbler offense in California. This means the crime can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the facts of a case.

Driving under the influence of drugs, per VC 23152(f), is usually charged as a misdemeanor. The penalties for misdemeanor DUID are the same as for driving under the influence of alcohol.

DUID misdemeanor penalties can include:

  • 3 to 5 years of DUID probation,
  • a fine (around $1,800 for a first offense),
  • a driver's license suspension, and
  • possibly time in jail.

A VC 23152(f) violation can be charged as a felony when:

  • it is the defendant's fourth or subsequent offense,
  • the defendant has one (or more) prior felony DUID convictions, or
  • the DUID caused injury to a third party.

Felony DUID penalties can include:

  • up to three years in jail (or 4 years if a third party was injured), and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000 (or up to $5,000 if someone was injured).

Are there legal defenses to accusations of driving under the influence of drugs?

Luckily, a person accused of a crime under VC 23152(f) can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. The two most common defenses include showing that:

  1. the defendant was not in fact “under the influence,” and/or,
  2. there was no "probable cause" for law enforcement to initiate a traffic stop or DUID investigation.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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