DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS
With the arrest of Tiger Woods for DUI, and the media reporting it was not for alcohol, now is a good time to remember that not all DUI’s are for alcohol. You can be charged with DUI if you are impaired by prescription drugs, over the counter medications, supplements, potentially even herbal remedies.
Let’s look at Utah’s DUI statute. Utah code annotated 41-6a-502 reads, in relevant part, ” A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person… is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle.”
If you are under the influence of a substance to the degree that you are incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle, you can be charged with DUI (assuming you are operating or in actual physical control of a vehicle). Who decides if you are incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle? It’s a determination made by the officer who pulls you over or another officer called to the scene to evaluate your condition.
What substances have you seen people on when charged with DUI?
There are the “street drugs”: Methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana
There are the prescription medications: Ambien and other sleep aids; Valium, Xanax and other anti-anxiety medications; Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, percocet and other painkillers; Zoloft and other antidepressants. This list is not exclusive. If it can impair you, you may be charged with DUI.
There are the over the counter medications: This group seems to surprise people the most. Decongestants and Antihistamines can cause impairment in some people. I have personally seen dozens of DUI’s for a popular brand name nighttime cold medicine. Taking more than is recommended can cause people serious impairment.
As you can see above, a wide variety of drugs/medications can cause impairment and can result in a DUI charge. It does not matter if you have a prescription for the medication you are on. If it causes you to be impaired, you can be charged with DUI.
What if there is a substance in your blood but you aren’t impaired?
Thats governed by Utah Code Annotated 41-6a-517, Driving with any measurable controlled substance in the body. It reads, in relevant part, “a person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state if the person has any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person’s body.”
This covers the situation when there is a controlled substance in your body but you are not impaired. A prescription for the substance in your body is an affirmative defense in this case. Driving with a painkiller in your blood but you’re not impaired? You may raise a defense that you have a valid prescription for that painkiller.
When do you see this charge?
I see this often with “street drugs” but mostly marijuana. Marijuana metabolites take longer than other drugs to exit your bloodstream. As such, there is a longer period where it will show up on a blood test but you will have no impairment.
Long story short: All substances with an ability to impair can result in a DUI charge. For DUI it does not matter if you have a doctor’s note or a valid prescription. Once the impairment is gone, you may still face charges if you are driving with a metabolite of a controlled substance is in your bloodstream and you do not have a valid prescription for the controlled substance.
The Good News
Just because you are charged with a crime does not mean you are guilty of a crime. You have options to protect your rights and mount a vigorous defense. Give me a call today to discuss your case and the various options you may have.