DUID & Prescription Medications in Colorado

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It never occurs to most people that they could be charged with a serious DUI solely because of a prescription medicine taken according to their doctor’s instructions. Unfortunately, the reality is that any substance that impairs a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle, even to the slightest degree, can result in being charged with driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while ability impaired (DWAI). To differentiate these types of DUIs and DWAIs from the more common alcohol-based DUI, the courts and attorneys have developed a sort of shorthand, nicknaming these cases “driving under the influence of drugs” (DUID) or “driving while impaired by drugs” (DWID).

At Patterson Weaver Law, LLC, our DUI attorneys have extensive experience helping people fight these serious charges. We know how to investigate these cases and craft a solid defense strategy in pursuit of the best possible outcome for our clients.

Contact us today for a free consultation with a prescription medication DUID attorney in Colorado Springs.

Do I Need an Attorney for My Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Medication Case?

Driving under the influence of drugs cases generally fall into three categories:

  1. Prescription medications
  2. Marijuana (which is legal in Colorado with restrictions)
  3. Illegal drugs (think cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, etc.)

Of these three types of DUID cases, prescription medication cases can be the most complicated. Prescription drug DUIs require a level of experience and ability far beyond a typical DUI charge because there is no straight line between the medication taken and the level of impairment like there is for alcohol. Years of study and research have proven that there is a correlation between elevated blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. That level of documentation does not exist for prescription drugs.

A thorough and experienced criminal defense lawyer knows that DUID cases require a more involved investigation and defense than alcohol DUIs. For example, a seasoned DUID lawyer will often consult one or more experts regarding the case to determine whether the level of medication found in a client’s blood was likely to impair the individual while driving. A DUID lawyer may work with forensic toxicologists as well as the prescribing physician.

The input of the prescribing doctor can sometimes be very helpful in determining the amount of tolerance someone may have developed to the medication over time and whether the prescribing doctor ever witnessed any impairment in the individual during appointments. In one case DUI lawyer Patterson Weaver handled recently, the prescribing doctor turned out to have done physiological tests at every appointment for the express purpose of determining whether the medication level was adversely affecting the client. Had the case not been dismissed prior to trial, that expert testimony would have been invaluable in swaying a jury.

Even when the District Attorney’s office has a strong case, an experienced and capable DUI attorney can often help:

  • Reduce the level of the charges
  • Reduce or eliminate jail time
  • Limit the amount of Useful Public Service required
  • Fight for a deferred sentence
  • Obtain a more lenient level of probation (i.e. unsupervised instead of supervised)
  • Reduce the term of a deferred sentence or probation
  • Limit the impact on driving privileges
  • Reduce or eliminate fines
  • Increase understanding and develop a strategy to comply with the court’s conditions
  • If all else fails and the case must go to trial, fight for an acquittal

If you are facing a DUI involving the use of prescription medications (or over-the-counter medications), be sure to get legal advice from an experienced DUI attorney. You need a lawyer with a track record of success in these particular types of DUI cases.

Common Defenses in DUID Cases

Some of the most common defenses in DUID cases are:

  • Your driving ability was not impaired by the drugs.
  • The police had no probable cause to pull you over.
  • You were not advised of your rights before arrest or interrogation.
  • You were arrested unlawfully.
  • Your blood test was not conducted according to Colorado law, or there were other errors with the test.

Our experienced Colorado Springs DUID attorneys can lay out the various defense options available to you and fight for the best possible outcome in your case.

What Types of Prescription Medications Can Lead to a DUI?

The reality is that any substance that can affect you physically or mentally can be grounds for the police to believe you were under the influence.

Most medications have warning labels that list potential side effects, such as:

  • Sleepiness or drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Partial paralysis
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Clumsiness or unsteadiness
  • Confusion
  • Light-headedness
  • Fainting
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
  • Unusual excitement, nervousness, or irritability
  • Abnormal sensation of movement
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion about identity, place, and time
  • Difficulty with moving
  • Double vision
  • Feeling of unreality
  • Loss of balance
  • Slowing of mental and physical activity
  • Trouble concentrating

The list goes on and on. Of course, no medication causes all of these effects, and not all people personally experience some or even any of these effects on their prescription medication. Some people have been on the same medication for years without any problems. Others are new to a medication but don’t attribute a side effect such as extreme drowsiness to the medication. Instead, they feel they just did not get enough sleep.

Regardless, if the police know you are on a prescription medication, and if they believe they see evidence of your inability to safely operate a motor vehicle, they almost always believe that the medication must be causing the behavior. Thus, they conclude you are driving under the influence of the prescription medication.

While any prescription medication that can have side effects could cause an otherwise law-abiding person to unwittingly be driving under the influence, in the experience of Patterson Weaver Law, LLC, there are a few medications that seem to pop up as grounds for DUI charges more regularly than others:

Clonazepam

Clonazepam is a benzodiazepine used as an anti-seizure medication as well as to treat anxiety and panic disorders in adults. It is commonly prescribed by physicians and psychiatrists for anxiety. Unfortunately, it can also cause a number of problematic side effects including dizziness, poor coordination, shakiness, and sleepiness or unusual drowsiness. If officers discover that someone is taking this medication and the defendant comments on being tired — the officer invariably believes the medication must be the reason.

Ambien (Zolpidem)

Ambien is a sedative usually prescribed for insomnia, or trouble sleeping. It is commonly prescribed by doctors, and yet it is one of the most common culprits in DUID cases. The initial concern is that Ambien can impair your thinking and reactions, which obviously is a problem with driving. However, the most interesting DUI cases involving Ambien involve different forms of sleepwalking. Some people on Ambien engage in sleepwalking activities such as driving, walking, making phone calls, eating (and drinking) without any later memory of the behavior.

DUI attorney Patterson Weaver has worked on such cases from both the defense and prosecution sides. For example, a defendant apparently went sleep-driving to a bar, drank at the bar, and drove home, without any memory of the event. In one of these cases, the defendant didn’t even remember being stopped by the police and the resultant DUI charge.

Unfortunately, because a DUI is what attorneys call a “strict liability offense,” one does not need to consciously intend to be driving in order to be charged and convicted with a DUI.

Vicodin and Prescription Painkillers Such as Codeine, Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, OxyContin, Celebrex

Many people take these medications per their doctor’s prescription for different types of temporary or chronic pain. Unfortunately, whether the pain control medication is a narcotic or not, most of them have side effects that can impair driving ability. They may cause dizziness, lightheadedness, unusual tiredness, nervousness, hearing loss, dullness, and sluggishness.

Because these types of medications are also commonly abused, law enforcement officers are much more likely to immediately jump to a conclusion of impaired driving if they discover that you take them.

What Do I Do If I Am Pulled Over While on a Prescription Medication?

Always be polite to the officer and never lie. However, you are under no obligation to provide potentially incriminating information against yourself. You must provide the officer with basic identifying information, such as driver’s license, motor vehicle registration, and insurance. However, you do not need to answer any of the other dozen questions officers usually ask when you are stopped for a traffic infraction or offense. After all:

  • Does the officer really need to know where you are going?
  • Or where you came from?
  • Or what you were doing?
  • Or how you are feeling?
  • Or what medications your doctor has prescribed you?

The officer might want to know, but he has no right to know. And you have no obligation to tell him or her. You have a right to remain silent. Use it.

Most of the more difficult DUI cases are the result of the defendant volunteering harmful information about themselves in an effort to be cooperative. There is no rule that you have to be cooperative in helping the officer charge you with DUI. You should be polite. You must be truthful in what you do say. But you do not need to say anything more than what you are required.

Officers may also ask you to perform standard field sobriety tests or, in the case of a suspected drugged driving case, a full Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluation. Though there are no hard rules in this area and there are certainly exceptions, defendants nearly always hurt themselves by agreeing to do these tests. The tests are voluntary – again, offer no more information than you are required.

If the police officer thinks he or she has probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence of drugs, the officer will explain Colorado Express Consent to you. Because breath tests cannot detect drugs in someone’s system, unless the officer believes that alcohol was the primary intoxicant, a defendant will generally be given the option of doing a blood test or refusing the test altogether. Refusing the test results in an immediate suspension of one’s license. In DUID cases, attorney Patterson Weaver generally prefers that clients using medications as prescribed do a blood test (although, again, this is on a case-by-case basis and you will not have the benefit of an attorney to consult before being forced to make the decision).

Regardless of what happens when you are pulled over, always call a qualified DUI attorney as soon as possible after an arrest. Our criminal defense law firm has a track record of success in complex DUID cases.

Penalties for DUID Convictions

There are two different offenses related to driving while under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medications in Colorado:

  • Driving Under the Influence (DUI): You can be charged with DUI if you have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.08 percent or higher or if you’ve consumed drugs or alcohol and you are “substantially incapable” of safely handling your vehicle.
  • Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI): You can be charged with DWAI if you’ve consumed any drugs, alcohol, or prescription medication, and the substance affects your ability to drive “in the slightest degree.”

DUI and DWAI are misdemeanor offenses in Colorado unless you have three prior convictions for DUI, DWAI, vehicular assault, or vehicular homicide, in which case the charge can be elevated to a felony. The possible penalties for misdemeanor DWAI and DUI break down like this:

First Offense DUI

  • 5 days to 1 year in jail
  • $600 to $1,000 in fines
  • 48-96 hours of community service
  • 9-month driver’s license suspension
  • 12 points on your license
  • Enrollment in an alcohol/drug education course

Second Offense DUI

  • 10 days to 1 year in jail
  • $600 to $1,500 in fines
  • 48-120 hours of community service
  • 1-year license revocation
  • 12 points on your license
  • Enrollment in an alcohol/drug education course
  • Having an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for 2 years

Third Offense DUI

  • 60 days to 1 year in jail
  • $600 to $1,500 in fines
  • 48-120 hours of community service
  • 2-year driver’s license suspension
  • 12 points on your license
  • Enrollment in an alcohol/drug education course
  • Having an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle for 2 years

First Offense DWAI

  • 2 to 180 days in jail
  • $200 to $500 in fines
  • 24-48 hours of community service
  • 8 points on your license

Second Offense DWAI

  • 10 days to 1 year in jail
  • $600 to $1,500 in fines
  • 48-120 hours of community service
  • 8 points on your license

Third Offense DWAI

  • 60 days to 1 year in jail
  • $600 to $1,500 in fines
  • 48-120 hours in community service
  • 8 points on your license

The penalties for a felony DWAI or DUI conviction are much harsher, including 2 to 6 years in prison and $2,000 to $500,000 in fines. If you’re facing a felony DUI or DWAI charge, talk to a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Talk to a Lawyer Now About Your Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Case

Anyone charged with any type of DUI should hire an experienced and proven DUI attorney they trust to help them through the case. That rule is especially true when dealing with DUI and DWAI cases in the complex realm of prescription medications. Every case is different and has its own challenges, but prescription medication DUIs are often more defensible than other types of DUIs if they are handled properly.

Patterson Weaver Law, LLC has a long track record of successfully handling cases like these in El Paso County (Colorado Springs), Teller County (Cripple Creek), Pueblo County (Pueblo), Fremont County (Canon City), and other surrounding areas. Contact Colorado Springs prescription drug DUID attorney Patterson Weaver today to set up a free initial consultation regarding your case.