Driving Under the Influence of Drugs


Have you been charged with a driving under the influence of drugs? You are not alone. Due to the increased use of rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft, the number of alcohol related DUIs has gone down considerably over the last five years. However, during that same period the number of DUI with drugs cases and DUI marijuana cases has increased significantly. Effectively, law enforcement has simply shifted their focus in an effort to keep the DUI arrest rates high.

It has been estimated that almost half the people in the United States take prescription stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers. It seems strange then that taking a medication legally prescribed by a doctor, and taking it as prescribed, could lead to a driving under the influence of drugs charge. But that is what can and does happen.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

The Law of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

To understand how a person can be charged with driving under the influence of drugs, it is essential to understand the Arizona DUI laws as they pertain to prescription drugs and your ability to operate a vehicle after taking them. In essence, the Arizona driving under the influence of drugs law can be broken down into two parts.

1. Driving with a Drug in Your System

Pursuant to A.R.S. § 28-1381(a)(3), it is unlawful to drive while there is any drug defined in section A.R.S. § 13-3401 or its metabolite in a person’s body. Examples of the drugs listed in A.R.S. § 13-3401 that police commonly investigate and test for during a driving under the influence of drugs case include:

  • Percocet (oxycodone);
  • OxyContin (oxycodone);
  • Lortab (hydrocodone);
  • Vicodin (hydrocodone);
  • Xanax (alprazolam);
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Klonopin (clonazepam);
  • Valium (diazepam);
  • Ritalin (methylphenidate);
  • Adderall (amphetamine);
  • Ambien (zolpidem);
  • Lunesta (Eszopiclone)

Effectively, A.R.S. § 28-1381(a)(3), makes it illegal to drive if any of these medications is in your system while driving. Importantly, however, it is a defense to this law if the person driving was taking the drug as prescribed by a medical practitioner.

SIDE NOTE: Having a prescription is an affirmative defense to a charge of driving under the influence of drugs pursuant to A.R.S. § 28-1381(a)(3) and must be proven by the person charged.

2. Impairing Your Ability to Drive

Even if you have a valid prescription for the drug found in your system, you can still be charged and found guilty of driving under the influence of drugs. In addition to the requirement that you have a valid prescription, pursuant to A.R.S. § 28-1381(a)(1) it is unlawful to drive a car while under the influence of any drug, if the person is impaired to the slightest degree.

Basically, the essential issue in a driving under the influence of drugs case is impairment. If you are impaired “to the slightest degree” you can be charged with DUI. If there is no impairment, AND you have a valid prescription, there is no violation of the statute.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Penalties

Driving under the influence of drugs is class 1 misdemeanor and is technically punishable by up to 6 months in jail, $2,500.00 fines plus surcharges and 5 years of probation. As with a conviction for any DUI in Arizona, there are mandatory minimum penalties if convicted of a DUI for drugs. The Typical driving under the influence of drugs penalties include:

  • A minimum of one day in jail;
  • Alcohol classes;
  • $2,000 in fines and fees;
  • 90 day suspension of you license;
  • Criminal conviction on your permanent record.

driving under the influence of drugs penalties

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs vs. DUI Alcohol

When prescription drugs are involved, the DUI case is much different than one involving alcohol. Here are some of the important differences:

  • Breath tests using a Breathalyzer and similar devices can measure the level of alcohol in your system. Breath tests do not reveal drug use.
  • The law in Arizona states that if your blood alcohol content is 0.08 or higher, you are guilty of DUI. There is no measurement of prescription drugs that is accepted as proof of intoxication.
  • Unlike alcohol, prescription drugs do not give off a distinct odor.
  • The symptoms people exhibit after taking medications vary wildly based on the person and the medication where alcohol intoxication is much more uniform.
    • Symptoms of alcohol ingestion commonly include slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, balance issues and others.
  • People who are impaired by alcohol tend to exhibit specific signs of impairment. The wide variety of drugs, and their differing effects on people, means that spotting impairment is often more difficult when prescription drugs are involved.

The upshot of this comparison is that a DUI charge based upon prescription drug use is markedly different from one based on alcohol. While the number of people charged with driving under the influence of drugs has increased dramatically, these cases tend to be some of the most defensible DUI charges.

Defending a Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Case

The primary evidence in the case will involve impairment. Examples of evidence commonly used by the state as proof of impairment includes:

  • Poor Driving Behavior;
  • A Car Accident (if applicable);
  • Poor Performance on Field Sobriety Tests (FST);
  • Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Examination Results; and
  • Toxicology (blood results).

In alcohol related DUIs, toxicology is important to prove a blood alcohol concentration for the person charged. However, driving under the influence of drugs cases tend to rely less on toxicology as the level of a drug in a person’s system is often a poor predictor of impairment. Instead, the prosecutor will tend to focus on the results and findings of the field sobriety tests and DRE examination. A police officer will ordinarily testify that he or she performed certain field sobriety tests, and that, as a result, has determined that you were impaired.

The Reliability of Field Sobriety Tests

The first question is whether standard field sobriety tests are effective in detecting drug impairment. The debate on this issue is ongoing but it’s important to remember that these tests, even when administered properly, are for determining alcohol impairment NOT drug impairment. As such, the reliability of the results of field sobriety test in a driving under the influence of drugs case are always at issue.

Attacking the Results of Field Sobriety Test

The next issues are whether the tests were properly administered, and whether the conclusions of the officer as to the meaning of the results are valid. The test results can be attacked in several ways. The officer may not be properly trained in the administration of the tests, or in how to interpret the results. The tests may have been improperly administered, and the conclusions of the officer, may simply be wrong.

Finally, there are medical conditions that can parrot FST results, including:

  • Balance issues;
  • Eye conditions;
  • Head trauma;
  • Leg and back injuries.

The common thread in driving under the influence of drugs cases, is that performance on field sobriety issues and DRE results can be attacked and an investigation can be challenged by an attorney who knows the law and understands the technical aspects of a dui with drugs.

Truthfully, many alcohol related DUIs come right down to the person’s BAC. However, when driving under the influence of drugs there is no BAC so attacking the notion that you were impaired by your prescribed medication is of the utmost importance.

dui with drugs

DUI Drugs Lawyer

Because driving under the influence of drugs cases are so technical and specialized, they require a DUI drugs lawyer qualified to handle them. At Feldman & Royle, we have years of combined experience handling DUI cases that involve, illicit drugs, medical marijuana and prescription medication. We have the knowledge to attack the charges against you and have successfully defended those charged with dui with drugs both in plea negotiations and at trial. For a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case and possible defenses call today.