It is illegal to drive if the prescription medication impairs your ability to drive. It still would be considered a DUI, what is termed DUI drugs, even if it is a legal prescription. The question is, does it impair you or not when you drive? So it is the same whether it is an illegal drug or a legal drug. If it impairs your ability to drive, you can be charged with a DUI.
COULD BEING IMPAIRED TO THE SLIGHTEST DEGREE CAUSE A PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION DUI OR MUST THERE BE A WARNING ON THE PRESCRIBED BOTTLE?
If it says do not operate a motor vehicle then for sure that is going to be evidence against you on a DUI drug charge. But, if your doctor prescribes you a drug and you are taking it according to the amount and the times your doctor prescribes and you have never been given a warning not to drive on it, then that would be a defense to the charge. But, you could still be charged with it and you have to defend yourself on that issue. It is strange, because anything you take will impair you. After you take an aspirin it is going to impair your body in some way. Hopefully it impairs the headache, but the question is does it impair your driving to an appreciable degree? If it says do not mix with alcohol, for instance, or do not drive or operate heavy machinery, or do not get on an animal and ride, then you have to be aware of that.
HOW COMMON ARE PRESCRIPTION DRUG DUI CASES?
For a while there was a big rise in DUI Ambien cases. Ambien became popular as a sleep medication. We had several cases throughout the state and the country. There were people who would get up in the middle of the night, not totally conscious of what they were doing and somehow wound up driving a vehicle, getting in accidents, things like that, and were not remotely aware of what they were doing. One of the most common things with Ambien is unconsciously going to the refrigerator in the middle of the night. They will get something to eat not even realizing what they are doing. That is a defense to a DUI. it is called involuntary intoxication.
You do not know what happened to you. But, some people reacted that way, so Ambien use has become less common. When it first became popular we had several cases like that where people were driving without even knowing they were driving.
COMMON PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION ON THE RISE IN CALIFORNIA
It is mostly pain medications. Mostly the opioids, like Vicodin and Percodan. Things like that. People will take more than they are prescribed and drive. They wind up in an accident. Usually that is how it happens. That is how they are discovered. But, if you take it as prescribed it just depends on how it will affect you. You know, drugs affect everybody differently. It is not like alcohol where you can get more of a particular effect. With drugs you do not know. That is the problem with a lot of people. They will take pain medications and develop a tolerance for it and it is not killing the pain at the same dosage that you were taking. So they will start increasing the dosage in order to get the benefit of the pain medication and generally that is where they start getting into trouble.
ARE MOST PEOPLE SURPRISED WHEN THEY ARE CHARGED WITH PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION DUI?
Yeah a lot of people are. They do not realize that you have to keep an eye on prescription medications. A lot of people, for some reason will keep their prescription bottles in their console or somewhere in their car and that is one of the main ways that the officers decide that you are most likely driving under the influence of a drug. They see the prescription bottles. I do not know why people do that, but almost every case I have ever seen, almost every one of them; the bottle is right in the console, for the police to see.
ARE THE BLOOD AND URINE TESTS MANDATORY?
If you are arrested for a DUI, drugs or alcohol, you are required in California to take a blood or breath test if it is a DUI alcohol. They do not offer urine for alcohol. But if they arrest you for DUI drugs, the officers do not always give you the choice. Generally they want you to just take the blood test. They hardly ever offer the urine test anymore. But they are supposed to give you a choice of both. Most of the time the officer will just say “I want you to take the blood test”. The penalty for refusing is an administrative penalty from the DMV, which is you lose your license for one year if it was a valid arrest. They still have to show that it was a valid arrest. You do not have to take a test unless it pursuant to a lawful arrest. So, if you can show that the arrest was without probable cause or that sort of thing you can save your license, but normally if you refuse to take a test and it is a lawful arrest, you are looking at losing that license.
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