The operating while intoxicated laws make it possible to be charged for driving under the influence of your prescription medications, even if a physician prescribed the medicine to you.
The OWI law makes it a crime to drive under the influence of a controlled substance (non-schedule I).
The phrase “under the influence” means your ability to drive was substantially lessened by the substance.
There is no amount of the drug that will make you legally intoxicated like with alcohol. The question is whether you are under the influence of the drug.
What is a Controlled Substance?
A controlled substance is a drug that is only available by prescription and is otherwise regulated by the government.
Examples of controlled substances could be medications such as Valium, Xanax (Alprazolam), opiate-based painkillers such as codeine and morphine, or stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin. These substances can be prescribed by your doctor.
Note: Any amount of a schedule I controlled substance in your system is enough for an OWI conviction, whereas you must be “under the influence” for any other controlled substance.
But What if I was Prescribed the Controlled Substance?
You could be charged with an OWI for controlled substance use even if you were prescribed the controlled substance. That it was a prescribed medication is not a legal defense to the charge (though a sympathetic jury might think otherwise).
There is no definition of “too much” of a controlled substance. One amount of sedative drugs may have a great effect on one person while not effecting another person. You could theoretically have a large amount of a substance in your system but not be under the influence of that substance.
How Much could be too Much?
There is a concept of a therapeutic level for medications – that there is a certain range of the drug in the system where the drug is expected to be effective without causing problems.
Nevertheless, there is no amount of a prescription medication that will necessarily make you intoxicated. However, drug levels within the therapeutic range could be evidence you were not under the influence.
Contrast this with the law on alcohol. For alcohol, you are considered intoxicated if your blood alcohol level is .08 or above.
I was Arrested for DUI with Prescription Meds – Should I Just Plead Guilty?
The first thing you should after a DUI arrest is speak with an attorney. A lawyer trained in DUI laws will be able to view the case through a legal lens and predict how the case may be viewed by a jury. These cases are far from open and shut. There may be legal defenses available to you that are worth your time and money to explore.
Some issues to explore:
- Were there legal grounds for the traffic stop?
- How was the driving? Was the driving “bad” or was there a technical issue or something ordinary like speeding?
- Did the police officer administer the field sobriety tests in the correct manner?
- Were the results of those tests consistent with impairment or did the person “fail” in the eyes of the officer only?
- Was the blood draw performed in the correct manner?
- What was the substance alleged and how much was in the system?
- What is the effect of this particular substance?
- Did the person take the medicine as prescribed?
- How long has the person taken this medication?
- How did you feel when you were driving? Were you alert? Drowsy? Felt normal?
Prescription Medications and OWIs
There are many kinds of prescription medications. There are sedatives, stimulants, anti-anxiety, weight loss drugs, sleep-aids, or painkillers. All of these drugs affect people differently. Some of these drugs might even make you a better driver.
Police and lawmakers are on the hunt for anyone suspected of driving under the influence. We now see police claiming to be drug recognition experts and we’re starting to see roadside saliva tests that may detect medications that would have previously gone unnoticed. There could be an increase of people arrested for DUI.
Here’s the reality. When the police officer has you pulled over and suspects you of taking drugs you are likely going to jail. The police officer and then the prosecutor then start with the conclusion that you are intoxicated, and then look for justification of that conclusion. That’s not how it should work.
We actually start with the presumption of innocence, that people are presumed innocent and are innocent unless there is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt proving otherwise (it’s in the Constitution).
It is the criminal defense attorneys job to repeatedly remind the jury of this presumption.
Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor DUI Lawyer.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.