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.