DUID—Prescription Medications

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, 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, and have nicknamed these cases Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (DUID) or Driving While Impaired by Drugs (DWID).

Should I Hire an Attorney to Help Me With 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); and 3) Illegal Drugs (think cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, etc.). Of these three types of DUID cases, and of alcohol DUIs generally, prescription medication cases can be the most complicated for an attorney to handle. Prescription drug DUIs require a level of experience and ability far beyond a typical DUI charge.

A thorough and experienced DUI lawyer knows that “Driving Under the Influence of Drugs” cases require a more involved investigation and defense than alcohol DUIs. For example, a competent DUID lawyer will often consult one or more experts regarding the case, including forensic toxicologists as well as the prescribing physician, to determine whether the level of medication found in a client’s blood was likely to impair the individual while driving. 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 if 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 required 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, to prevail with an acquittal.

If you are facing a DUI involving the use of prescription medications, be sure to consult with a DUI Attorney experienced in handling such complex cases, and who has a track record of success with these specialized types DUI cases.

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.

And the frightening list goes on. Of course, not all medications cause 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 and don’t attribute a side effect such as extreme drowsiness to the medication but rather to not getting enough sleep. Regardless—if the police know you are on a prescription medication, and if they believe they see any behavior that can be attributed to the medication, they almost always believe that the medication must be causing the behavior—and 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 problem 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 while on the medication that can include 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 attorney’s 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 many other prescription pain killers 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, such as 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 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 also under no obligation whatsoever to provide potentially incriminating information against yourself. While you must always provide the officer with basic identifying information, such as driver’s license, registration, and insurance, you need not answer any of the other dozen questions officers usually ask you when you are stopped for a traffic infraction or offense. 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 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. 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.

Officers may also ask you to perform Standard Field Sobriety Tests, or in the case of a suspected drugged driving case, perhaps even 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 officer believes he or she has probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence of drugs, he or she will explain Colorado Express Consent to you. Because breath tests cannot detect drugs in someone’s system, unless the officer believes that you had alcohol and that that was the primary intoxicant, a defendant will generally be given the option of doing a blood test or refusing the test altogether (which results in an immediate suspension of one’s license). In DUID cases, DUI 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 you chose—always call a qualified DUI attorney with a track record of success in “Driving Under the Influence of Drug” (DUID) cases as soon as possible.

The Bottom Line in “Driving Under the Influence of Drug” Cases

Anyone charged with any type of DUI should hire an experienced and capable DUI Attorney they trust to help them through the case. However, that rule is doubly 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 handles these cases in El Paso County (Colorado Springs), Teller County (Cripple Creek), Pueblo County (Pueblo), Douglas County (Castle Rock), Fremont County (Canon City), and in other areas depending on the case. Call experienced DUI Lawyer Patterson Weaver today to set up a free consultation regarding your case.

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