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How to Fight a DUI Charge for Prescription Drugs

DUI charges could range from misdemeanors to felonies. If you have been charged with a DUI involving prescription medication, you might have reason to argue against an unfair sentence. Read more to learn about the penalties for DUI involving prescription drugs and the best strategies for defending against such a charge.

DUI for Prescription Drugs

A DUI involving legal drugs is generally treated as any other DUI charge would be. It is illegal under California law to drive under the influence of any drug, even if it is a medication that has been legally prescribed to you. Below are some common types of prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can impair drivers:

  • Antidepressants – can cause impairment similar to drunk driving
  • Valium – 10 mg of the tranquilizer can cause impairment similar to having a BAC of 0.10
  • Antihistamines – slow reaction time and impair coordination
  • Decongestants -- can cause drowsiness, anxiety and dizziness
  • Sleeping pills – even residual effects can impair drivers
  • Hydrocodone – similar to opiates and causes impairment similar to morphine and codeine

Depending on the amount you have taken before driving, many prescription and over-the-counter medications can affect your coordination and motor skills, even if you take the prescribed amount. Some common side effects that can impact your ability to drive and warrant a DUI stop include:

  • dizziness,
  • drowsiness,
  • nausea,
  • blurred vision,
  • slowed movement,
  • fainting,
  • inability to focus or pay attention.

Penalties for DUID

The penalties for DUI involving legal drugs and a DUI while under the influence of alcohol are the same. Sentencing for a California DUID conviction can vary, and a judge will consider the following factors when determining your penalties:

  • your criminal history (if any), including prior DUIs or “wet” convictions,
  • the circumstances of the offense,
  • whether any third parties were injured, and
  • whether you would benefit from a program of drug treatment.

Defense Strategies for DUIDs

There are a few different angles of defense against a DUI charge involving prescription medications. One common defense is claiming mistake of fact, such as having valid reason to believe that the impairment of your prescription medication has worn off. A common defense against general DUIs is to claim that the officer who stopped you did not have probable cause to make the initial traffic stop or DUI investigation in the first place.

Perhaps the strongest defense against a DUID regarding prescription medication is claiming innocence. It is quite possible that your behavior suggesting impairment from drugs was not actually a drug-induced impairment; recognized signs of drug impairment can sometimes be explained by something other than drug use. For example, numerous medical and physical conditions that can mimic the signs of drug impairment include:

  • lack of sleep/fatigue,
  • allergies,
  • illness,
  • diabetic ketoacidosis,
  • arthritis,
  • injury, and
  • anxiety or nervousness.

For example, pupil size or poor balance, two common indicators of drug use, could be affected by anxiety or nervousness.

Note: The court recognizes that there is no correlation between the quantity of a drug in one’s system and one’s impairment; some are affected by drugs more than others, so having drugs in your system does not necessarily mean you are under their influence. As a result, the prosecution has to prove intoxication or impairment directly occurred as a result of the drug detected, which may be harder to do.

In drug cases, you could also argue in your defense that the arresting officer did not properly follow procedure for determining your BAC level. Under California law, chemical tests may be invalid because of:

  • contaminated medical equipment,
  • improperly drawn blood,
  • improper storage of the samples, and/or
  • improper handling of the samples.

Also consider that California requires law enforcement to save a portion of your DUI blood draw for up to 1 year for retesting by the defendant if you choose to do so. This means your defense team can have their own independent “quantitative analysis” performed, also called a “blood split” motion.

The penalties for DUI convictions could range from fines to significant jail time and license revocations. However, if you feel you have been unfairly charged with a DUI for taking legal prescription medication, you have a right to challenge the charge. Our firm understands these nuances of DUI law and can help you fight severe and unfair DUI charges. After all, you should not be penalized for taking prescription medications for your health and well-being.

Contact our DUI attorneys at Appel & Morse for a free consultation today.