District attorney cracks down on drugged driving
Conflict lies in illegal narcotics versus elderly on prescription medication
By Shane Cohn 01/03/2013
District Attorney Greg Totten announced last week that for the second year in a row, his office was awarded more than a quarter of a million dollars in grant money to continue a more aggressive approach to DUI prevention and prosecution.
The $320,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety will fund what is called the “Drug and Alcohol DUI Vertical Prosecution Team.” Along with two full-time deputy district attorneys devoted solely to prevention and prosecution of impaired drivers, there will be more training and education for law enforcement and district attorneys about driving under the influence of prescription and illegal drugs.
“Part of the way the grant is focused is to really increase enforcement of people driving under influence of drugs, both prescription and illegal drugs,” said Deputy District Attorney Stacy Ratner. “We’re really trying to make a push in that area. We’ve filed a lot more of those cases and taken more to trial and been very successful in those cases.”
Ratner said there were 3,714 single count DUI cases filed in the district attorney’s office from Oct.1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012. Eighty-eight cases were drug-only DUIs, which Ratner said is the most ever filed, due in large part to the grant money. The drug-only cases yielded a 90 percent conviction rate, she said.
“Before, officers weren’t well-trained in this area and there were cases going on with drivers appearing to be driving recklessly or unsafely, but there was no detection of alcohol and not doing anything about those people,” she said, adding that local law enforcement agencies have also been awarded grant money for DUI prevention and education.
But Ventura DUI lawyer Darryl Genis is calling the district attorney’s new tactical focus on drugged driving a politically and financially driven war on elderly drivers.
“They’re not looking exclusively for amphetamine, methamphetamine and marijuana anymore,” said Genis. “They’re looking to get grandpa or grandma for taking the drugs they are supposed to take. Pack a room full of drivers 50 years old and over, and most of them will say they take a handful of prescriptions. This new era we’re entering into with all the special funding is a war on those people.”
Because of the grant money award, the district attorney’s office will now have a financial incentive to produce results, explained Genis. He said it would be highly unlikely to ever see the amount of DUIs issued decrease on a yearly basis because, “There is tremendous money in it.”
A DUI conviction can cost substantially more than $10,000 in fines, fees, DUI classes, court probation and other expenses.
“It’s hard to imagine the DA going after drivers more aggressively than they already have, since they have been engaged in a reign of terror on Ventura County drivers for over 35 years with their no-plea-bargain posture with DUIs,” said Genis, “but from what I have seen, there is a movement in all prosecuting agencies [toward drug-only DUIs].”
Genis added that many people drive with drugs in their systems. In some cases, a person may be prescribed a drug for attention deficit disorder that makes him or her less impaired, or more focused. But that person will now be more likely prosecuted for a DUI charge if a law enforcement officer determines that person was driving recklessly.
In California, 23 percent of drivers in fatal crashes have tested positive for drug involvement, according the district attorney’s office. The news release from Totten’s office said that legal entitlement to use a prescription drug is not a defense, nor is there any requirement of proving a .08 percent blood alcohol concentration.
A Ventura County DUI crackdown by law enforcement agencies from Dec.14 to 27 resulted in 106 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.