Friday, January 29, 2016

San Diego Conviction for Driving on Meth Reversed on Appeal

San Diego Conviction for Driving on Meth Reversed on Appeal

The California Court of Appeal recently overturned a conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) of methamphetamine in People v. Torres. Mr. Torres had been convicted by a jury after being arrested and charged under California Vehicle Code section 23152(a), driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Torres was seen leaving a suspected meth house that was under police surveillance. Police followed him for a short distance and then pulled him over when he overshot the stop sign limit line before coming to a complete stop. Once pulled over, Torres exhibited symptoms of methamphetamine use including profuse sweating, rigid muscles, chemical odor, bad breath and slow to constrict pupils. Torres later admitted to using meth within the past two days and submitted to a urine test which came back at fairly high levels.

You would think that Mr. Torres would have taken a plea bargain along the way, but his attorney was smart. To be found guilty of driving under the influence of a drug, "the . . . drug(s) must have so far affected the nervous system, the brain, or muscles [of the individual] as to impair to an appreciable degree the ability to operate a vehicle in a manner like that of an ordinarily prudent and cautious person in full possession of his faculties." (People v. Canty (2004) 32 Cal.4th 1266, 1278.)

But in Mr. Torres' case, the police did not observe him driving irradically. The testifying officer admitted that failing to stop at the limit line is not sufficient to establish that the driver is under the influence of a drug. Further, the arresting officer did no field tests to determine if Mr. Torres' ability to drive was impared. In fact, the arresting officer admitted to having no training to determine the effects of drug use on driving ability.

So, despite the fact that Mr. Torres was convicted by a jury and likely served most if not all of his 120 day sentence before his appeal was decided, his conviction was eventually reversed. And that is significant, because most drug users reoffend even if they want and seek out treatment. A prior conviction can have vast implications in a subsequent case including less willingness on the part of the prosecution to plea bargain and stiffer sentences. 

If you have been charged with driving under the influence of a drug in San Diego County, it is essential that you contact a skilled San Diego DUI defense attorney. A good lawyer will closely evaluate the evidence in your case and determine if the police and prosecution have collected enough evidence to seek and obtain a conviction. 

To the unskilled eye, the facts in Torres' case looked like he should plea to the charges. To a lawyer familiar with the holding in the Torres case and the entire intricate web of DUI case law, the facts presented an opportunity to get the charges dismissed.