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