City Attorney Mara W. Elliott Aims to Prosecute More Drivers for ‘Drugged Driving”

Mara Elliot
City Attorney Mara Elliot. Photo by Chis Stone

City Attorney Mara W. Elliott announced a 50 percent increase in funding from the California Office of Traffic Safety for a specialized team of drugged and alcohol-impaired-driving prosecutors within her office.

The City Attorney’s Office will receive a $410,000 grant to manage an expected large increase in drugged and alcohol-impaired-driving testing by the Sheriff’s Crime Lab. Funding runs through September 2024.

“The preventable crime of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or the combination of alcohol and drugs remains a pervasive issue in our community,” says San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott. “This grant provides additional resources we will use to hold accountable those who drive while under the influence of marijuana or prescription medication. This is the most effective way to save lives.”

Elliott says there’s a lack of public understanding around drugs and drunk-driving laws. Even without alcohol, the use of marijuana or prescription drugs (particularly those with a warning to refrain from driving or operating machinery) can lead to a driving under the influence (DUI) arrest and conviction.

Thanks to the OTS grant funding in the previous year, the City Attorney’s specialized prosecution team reviewed 272 misdemeanor cases of driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. Overall, the City Attorney’s Office reviewed approximately 2,479 DUI cases and filed 2,040 DUI cases during that period.

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office Criminal Division is responsible for processing and reviewing misdemeanor driving under the influence (DUI) arrest reports occurring within the City of San Diego, the City of Poway, and the unincorporated area known as 4S Ranch.  The City Attorney’s Office prosecutes cases generated by more than 15 law enforcement agencies, which submit cases to the Sheriff’s Crime Lab and the San Diego Police Department Crime Lab.  The Sheriff’s Crime Lab recently announced plans to test all DUI samples for drugs and alcohol.

Drugged driving cases can be difficult to prosecute – even following a positive test – due to public misconceptions about marijuana and prescription medications. Successful DUI drug and alcohol prosecutions require a proper understanding of the signs of drugged driving impairment, probable defense arguments, and familiarity with drug toxicology.

The trained Drug DUI Prosecution Unit within the City Attorney’s Office handles these complex cases throughout each step of the criminal process. One Deputy City Attorney is in charge of each case, from arrest through conviction and sentencing. Prosecutors work to secure convictions and appropriate sentences that reflect the public safety risk the offender poses, mentor trial attorneys on how to successfully try high-risk DUI offenders, and host quarterly roundtable meetings with law enforcement personnel.