DUI checkpoint
A DUI checkpoint. Photo courtesy San Diego Sheriff’s Department

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott announced Friday her office has been awarded a $265,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety to continue funding a special team of prosecutors that works on drugged-driving cases.

“Driving under the influence of drugs can have devastating effects on San Diego drivers and their families,” Elliott said. “Our city continues to see DUI cases involving the misuse of prescription drugs, marijuana and illegal drugs, often in combination with alcohol. This grant allows our highly specialized prosecution team to work closely with law enforcement to hold accountable those who endanger our community.”

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office has received special grants from the OTS, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to prosecute drugged-driving cases annually since 2015. This year’s grant represents a substantial increase over last year’s $198,302 allotment.

Funding from the Drug DUI Prosecution Grant is intended to aid the office in handling cases throughout each step of the criminal process, prosecuting both drug-impaired and drug/alcohol-impaired driving cases.

The team handles each case vertically, meaning one deputy city attorney is in charge of an individual case, from arrest through conviction and sentencing. The team members also work with the state’s Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor Program to expand knowledge and resources in the emerging problem of drug-impaired driving throughout the state.

In the past year under the 2019-2020 OTS grant, the specialized prosecution team filed 157 misdemeanor cases of driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and drugs. The office as a whole filed 1,800 DUI cases during that period.

The purpose of the program is to prevent impaired driving and reduce alcohol and drug-impaired traffic deaths and injuries. So far this year there have been two dozen DUI-related deaths in San Diego County, despite fewer cars on the road due to pandemic-related restrictions. If that trend continues, this year is on track to surpass the county’s worst year, 2017, during which 25 people were killed in DUI crashes.

The Office of Traffic Safety is reminding the public that DUI doesn’t just mean alcohol. 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 DUI arrest and conviction.

“If you drink or use drugs and decide to drive, you put lives at risk,” OTS Director Barbara Rooney said. “This funding from the OTS makes sure that those who make the choice to drive under the influence are held accountable for their actions.”

— City News Service