Have you been charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs? You are not alone. Many people face DUI charges based upon their use of prescription medication, including drugs like oxycodone, Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and others. In fact, it has been estimated that almost half the people in the United States take prescription stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers.
It seems strange that taking a medication legally prescribed by a doctor, and taking it as prescribed, could lead to DUI charge. But that is what can and does happen. To see how, it is essential to understand the DUI laws as they pertain to prescription drugs.
What is Prescription Drug DUI?
While the drug laws in Arizona define prescription-only drugs (A.R.S. 13-3401(28)), the DUI statute does not provide a defense because the driver had a valid prescription. This means that if you are taking a prescription drug, it could provide the basis for a drugged driving charge.
The essential issue in a prescription drug DUI case is impairment. If you are impaired “to the slightest degree” you can be charged with DUI. If there is no impairment, there is no violation of the statute.
DUI 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.
- 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. The next issue is how to defend a DUI prescription drug case.
Defending a Prescription Drug DUI Case
The primary evidence in the case will involve impairment. 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. There may or may not be blood test results showing the presence of drugs.
The first question is whether standard field sobriety tests are effective in detecting drug impairment. The debate on this issue is ongoing. The next issues are whether the tests were properly administered, and whether, even assuming they were, 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 proper administration of the tests, or in how to interpret the results. The tests may have been improperly administered, and the subjective conclusions of the officer – conclusions based upon FST tests are always subjective – may simply be wrong. Finally, there are medical conditions that can parrot FST results, including balance issues, eye movement issues, and others.
In order to successfully challenge the evidence, you need an attorney who knows the law and understands the technical aspects of a prescription drug DUI case.
Prescription Drug DUI Defense Lawyers
The criminal defense attorneys at Feldman & Royle represent clients charged with DUI. Whether the basis for the charge is alcohol or drugs, they know how to spot holes in the prosecution’s case, how to raise and develop defenses, and how to provide you with the best opportunity for a dismissal or a not guilty verdict. Call for your free consultation.