What You Need to Know About Your Prescriptions and DUI Law
The arrest of Tiger Woods last week on allegations of prescription drug DUI brought public attention to a scenario my firm receives calls about almost weekly. The scenario typically goes like this: A person between the ages of 40 and 70 years old is arrested, booked into jail, and charged with a DUI. The person has never been in trouble in their entire life, and swears they didn’t drink anything or take any illegal drugs before they were pulled over. They only took the prescriptions given to them by their doctor. It is a frightening and humiliating experience for a person who has lived a law-abiding life to suddenly be arrested for a crime. This article is designed to provide and overview of the prescription drug DUI laws in Georgia, how you can avoid being charged with this offense, and the defenses an experienced attorney may be able to present on your behalf if you are charged.
As always, this article is based on my experience as a former prosecutor turned defense attorney, and is intended as an overview rather than legal advice. Every legal case is different and if you have been charged with a DUI, you should consult with an experienced DUI attorney to evaluate and assist you in your case. While we would be honored if you chose to speak with our firm, but even if you choose not to we encourage you to speak with someone.
The Georgia Prescription Drug DUI Law
Under Georgia law, a person is guilty of driving under the influence of drugs if that person drives or is in actual physical control of a moving motor vehicle while under the influence of a drug, combination of drugs, or combination of drugs and alcohol to the extent that the person is less safe to drive. While the Georgia DUI statutes state that a person who is lawfully entitled to use a drug is only guilty of DUI if the drug renders them “incapable of driving safely” the courts have interpreted this language to be synonymous with “less safe to drive.” Thus, the fact that you were lawfully prescribed a drug is legally not a defense to a DUI charge if the State can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drug made you less safe to drive than you would have been if you had not taken the drug. Even worse, it does not matter legally whether you intended to operate the vehicle knowing that you were less safe to drive. The mere fact that you intended to take your medicine, combined with being less safe (whether your realized you were or not) is sufficient to convict.
DUI Drug Prevention- Talk to Your Doctor
Listing all of the various prescription medication that could affect your ability to drive a car would turn this brief article into a book. Instead, you should talk to your doctor about every prescription he gives you in order to understand how it affects your ability to operate a motor vehicle. The absolute best defense to a DUI drug charge is to not be charged with the offense in the first place and to have a thorough understanding of what medicines you are taking in order to keep yourself and the roadways safe. These are some of the questions you should ask your doctor:
What effect will this medication have on my ability to drive a car?
Should I wait a period of time after taking my medicine to drive? If so, how long?
Should I be driving at all?
If prescribed more than one medication, how will this combination of medications affect my ability to drive?
Does the medication react poorly or have its effects amplified by alcohol, even a single drink?
If I forget whether I took my medicine and accidentally take an extra dose, how will this affect me?
Are there any other precautions I should take regarding driving while I am on this medicine?
DUI Drug Defense: What Your Attorney Will Want to Know
If you are charged with a prescription drug DUI there are a number of things your attorney will want to know to prepare your defense. Here are a few:
Your complete medical history including what injuries/illnesses you were being treated for.
What drugs you were prescribed for the conditions, and what you took on the date of the incident.
The last time you took the various prescriptions prior to being pulled over.
The attorney may ask you to obtain your medical and prescription records from your doctor or pharmacy, or may have you sign a waiver so they can obtain them to prepare your case.
DUI Drug Defenses: What Your Attorney Can Do For You
DUI drug arrests may seem easy to make, but if you are represented by a skilled attorney they can be difficult to prove. Here are some of the defenses an attorney will explore on your behalf.
Were you actually less safe to drive, and if so what proof is there of that?
Even if you were less safe to drive, is there proof that this was caused by the drug rather than by the underlying medical condition? For example, if someone is prescribed hydrocodone due to a back condition and the person was given field sobriety tests, was the poor performance on a field sobriety test caused by the drug or by the back condition?
The attorney will analyze the results of any blood or urine test you may have taken and determine the levels of the substance in your body. These levels can often demonstrate whether you had enough of the drug in your system to affect your ability to drive and whether you were taking the drugs as therapeutically prescribed. Your attorney may bring in toxicologists, pharmacists or other expert to assist in analyzing the results and present your defense.
Being charged with a criminal offense because you took the medicine your doctor prescribed can be a frightening and embarrassing experience. Talk to your doctor about your prescriptions and try to avoid driving in an unsafe manner. If you find yourself charged with a prescription drug DUI we would be happy to talk to you about your case. You can reach us at (706) 509-0353.
A parent’s love for a child is unconditional and unending, no matter what they have done and no matter how old they are. In my time as a prosecutor and a defense attorney I have seen plenty of heartbreaking things, but one of the most striking is when young adults from good families find themselves in legal trouble. In my experience, how families come together during such times can often determine whether the trouble a young man or woman finds themselves in becomes a recurring problem or a bad memory.
This article is to offer some general guidance to parents of college students and other young adults who are arrested. These observations are general and based on my experience. All cases are different, and you should consult a qualified attorney about your specific circumstances. Feel free to contact The Bratcher Firm if you would like to speak with us about your case. But even if you don’t contact us, contact someone.
1. Focus on What Matters- When finding out a child is arrested, it is not uncommon to feel shocked and embarrassed. The initial arrest, combined with news articles can make a bad situation worse. But keep in mind, a good parent doesn’t suddenly become a bad parent because their child has been accused of a crime. Similarly, the good kid you raised does not suddenly become a bad apple just because they have been accused of breaking the law. These negative emotions, while understandable, can hinder effectively dealing with the issue at hand. Try to process the initial shock, hurt, and embarrassment you may feel and focus on the thing that you have always put first and foremost: the well-being of your child.
2. Address Immediate Legal Needs- In the even you receive a phone call that your child has been arrested and needs you to post a bond, you are faced with a choice. It is not uncommon for parents to tell their teenage children “if you ever get arrested, you better not call me to get you out.” I would encourage you to think hard when deciding whether to follow through with this statement. County jails house some actual bad people, in addition to good people accused of breaking the law. Very seldom does the value of any lesson learned by a good person from being left in jail outweigh the risks of being in custody. Additionally, when you are the person posting bond, your child needs you. Accordingly, this stage is often a good time to talk to your child and get honest answers about the things you need to learn in order to address the things discussed in part 3.
3. Assess the Underlying Problems- It is absolutely critical that open and frank communication with your child about what got them arrested. This discussion should be focused on solving the problem, and should be free of judgement. For example, if your child is charged with DUI or possession of marijuana, this could be evidence of an underlying drug or alcohol problem that needs to be addressed. If a harder drug like methamphetamine is at issue, it very frequently indicates the need for treatment or rehabilitation. Even if your child is not guilty of what they are charged with, the fact that they are charged at all may be evidence of some underlying problem. For example, a child wrongly charged with possession of marijuana that a friend left in their car could be evidence that he is “around the wrong crowd.” The only way to address the underlying issue is to communicate honestly with the child. Your communication with your child may not be privileged and you could be called as a witness if the State has reason to believe the child has made incriminating statements to you. By contrast, in most cases an attorney or therapist communications are privileged. These professionals may not be called as witnesses and can often give direction about what interventions may be needed without violating privilege.
Often a therapist or other expert is necessary to determine the extent of a problem through drug or alcohol evaluations. As a prosecutor and defense attorney, I have established relationships with counselors, rehabilitation facilities, and other experts I can refer you to who can help you take a holistic approach to helping your child in addition to resolving the criminal case.
4. Do Not Assume The Legal System Will Resolve Underlying Problems: Assume the Opposite- The ultimate goal for a young adult who gets in trouble (even if they may have committed an offense) is to rehabilitate the person and make them a positive, productive member of society. In order to do so, two of the most important factors include education and gainful employment. Unfortunately, under Georgia law the desire to punish often overtakes the desire to rehabilitate and the collateral consequences of a conviction can ruin efforts at rehabilitation. For example, for many crimes a conviction includes the suspension of a drivers’ license, the denial of state provided financial aid for college, and a criminal record that denies the person convicted certain job opportunities for life. There are “safety valves” built into these laws that often allow exceptions to these consequences and anyone facing criminal charges would be wise to consult an experienced attorney to keep a potential criminal charge from haunting them for years into the future.
In my 11 years of experience, I have come to believe that police officers, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges are by and large very good people who choose careers in public service because they want to help people. The problem is they face a system that is overcrowded, overburdened, and makes it largely impossible to take a case by case approach to everyone accused of a crime. A talented criminal defense attorney not facing such burdens can often take a holistic approach to cases, and work with the accused and with the State to reach a resolution that holds the individual accountable for wrongdoing while at the same time avoiding many of the collateral consequences that come along with a conviction.
5. Rebuild Your Relationship: Getting a good result in the criminal case is only a first step to rebuilding the loving and trusting relationship you have with your child. Often times, repairing the underlying problem that lead to an arrest requires rehabilitation, individual or family therapy, and a lot of difficult conversations. Every situation is different, and how to go about repairing an individual relationship is beyond the scope of this article. Just know that resolving the underlying problem and reestablishing a relationship of trust between parent and child is absolutely essential to avoid legal problems in the future.
Having a child arrested is a frightening and often overwhelming experience. My firm has years of experience in the criminal justice system and we assist our clients and their families during these difficult times. If you would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact us at (706) 509-0353.