When we think of a DUI, most people think of being under the influence of alcohol. More recently, people have started to think of being charged with a DUI for being under the influence of recreational drugs like marijuana. But did you know that you can be charged with a DUI for being under the influence of prescription drugs?
People who are under the influence of prescription drugs often exhibit the same symptoms as someone who is under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs. Sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs like Valium or Xanax cause people to appear drowsy and may cause slurred speech. They also make drivers less alert and slow reaction time. Stimulants encourage risky behavior and can make it difficult to judge distances - skills that are important for safe driving.
Drivers who have been stopped under suspicion of a DUI can truthfully tell an officer that they have not been drinking. But they can still be charged with a DUI for prescription drugs.
Many drivers who have been charged with a DUI for prescription drugs claim that they did not know that they could be charged with a DUI for prescription drugs. However, all prescription drugs come with a warning that the drug can cause drowsiness and may impair a person’s ability to drive a car or operate heavy machinery.
Wahington’s DUI statute, RCW 46.61.502 states that, “A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of...any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state:... (c) While the person is under the influence of or affected by...any drug.”
While there is no per se limit for prescription drug intoxication, if you are “under the influence of or affected by” a drug, you can be charged with a DUI.
Many people claim that they cannot be convicted of a DUI for prescription drugs because they were taking the drug under a doctor’s orders. Unfortunately, this defense is not available. Washington’s DUI statute states, “The fact that a person...is or has been entitled to use a drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against a charge of violating this section.”
Of course, if you were using prescription drugs for recreational purposes, you can still be charged with a DUI for prescription drugs.
Because a breath test will not detect the presence of prescription drugs, if an officer suspects you are under the influence of prescription medication you may be asked to submit to a blood test. If the test is positive for prescription drugs, you could be charged with DUI.
One difficulty in charging a driver with DUI for prescription drugs is measuring the driver’s level of intoxication. Prescription drugs may be present in your system, but it can be difficult to prove the extent to which you were impaired. To establish that you were intoxicated, prosecutors will need to have the police officer testify that you displayed signs and symptoms of someone who is under the influence of drugs.
This creates additional defenses against a charge of DUI for prescription drugs because there are complex chemical processes at play that make it difficult to predict the effect a drug will have on an individual. It can also be difficult to determine how long it had been since a driver ingested the prescription drug because some prescription drugs will stay in a person’s body for weeks.
Even when drivers appear to be under the influence of prescription drugs and have bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, or are unsteady on their feet, a skilled DUI defense lawyer can exploit sloppy police work to secure a Not Guilty verdict.
For example, many police officers habitually write in their report that they “detected an odor of alcohol emanating from the vehicle.” But if you were suspected to be under the influence of a prescription drug, there would be no odor of alcohol. A DUI defense attorney can use this evidence to show that the officer’s investigation was not thorough, and to call into question the officer’s credibility on other matters, as well.
This lack of credibility can be attacked in a Motion to Suppress Evidence, or at trial to create reasonable doubt.
The penalties for a DUI for prescription drugs are the same as for a DUI for alcohol or marijuana. If you are convicted of a first-time DUI, you face:
If you are facing a DUI charge in Washington, seek the assistance of a qualified DUI defense attorney as quickly as possible. A skilled DUI defense attorney might be able to have the charges reduced, negotiate a lighter sentence, or even have the case dismissed.
Washington DUI defense attorney Justin Campbell has helped hundreds of people in Anacortes, Mount Vernon, Burlington, and Sedro-Woolley, as well as Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Langley, Freeland, Clinton, and Friday Harbor who have been charged with a DUI.
Learn more about why clients choose us, and contact attorney Justin Campbell today by calling (360) 588-4111, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or complete our online form to schedule a free 90-minute consultation to discuss your case.