Can I Get a DUI for Taking Prescription Painkillers?

August 13, 2019

Even if your medicine was legally prescribed, you may be charged with a DUI

Can I Get a DUI for Taking Prescription Painkillers?

There comes a point in most of our lives when we may need to take something for pain. Perhaps you had surgery, or tweaked your back, or had a tooth pulled. Whatever the reason, your doctor may have written you a prescription for some painkillers. You’ve taken them responsibly, never more than you should, yet one day….you are stopped on your way home from the grocery store and arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Is that legal?

In a word: yes. In California, it is against the law to drive under the influence of any drug that impairs your driving abilities. This includes medications for which you have a valid and legal prescription, such as Vicodin, Percocet or Oxycotin. This is known as a DUI of drugs, or DUID. If you have been charged with one, you will need an aggressive Santa Ana DUI lawyer to help you fight the charges.

A prosecutor can charge you with DUID if you drove a vehicle while you were under the influence of drugs (any drug!) and/or the combined influence of drugs and alcohol or another drug, and the medication impaired your physical and mental abilities to such a degree that you could no longer drive in the way that an ordinarily cautious sober person would drive under similar circumstances. In other words, if you pop a Vicodin for your back pain and then drive, you could be charged with DUID if your driving is impaired. It doesn’t matter if your medicine was prescribed to you — except for the fact that you will not also be charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Of course, there is a catch with DUID cases. Unlike DUI cases involving alcohol, there isn’t a legal limit for how much of a particular drug you can have in your system before you are deemed too impaired to drive. So how can a prosecutor prove a DUID? Typically, a prosecutor will present evidence from the arresting officer, a drug recognition evaluator (DRE) and/or a criminalist, who will testify that you displayed symptoms of painkiller use. They will also testify that use of these medications causes mental and physical impairment.

A skilled Santa Ana DUI lawyer can present testimony from an expert witness to demonstrate that the amount of medication in your system was a therapeutic dose, and that you were not under the influence at the time that you were driving. Your attorney may also argue that your blood or urine sample was contaminated, or that the police used improper techniques, depending on the facts of the case.

A DUID charge carries substantial penalties. For a first through third offense, this charge is generally a misdemeanor. However, if you have three or more prior alcohol-related driving offenses in the past 10 years, a prior felony DUI conviction, or you caused bodily injury to another while driving under the influence, it will be charged as a felony. For misdemeanor DUID, you can expect to be sentenced to time in the county jail, a fine, a driver’s license suspension and mandatory DUI school. For felony DUID, you face similar penalties, but will serve time in state prison.

If you have been charged with DUID, you will need a top notch lawyer to help defend you. The Chambers Law Firm can help. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or to schedule a free initial consultation with a Santa Ana DUI lawyer.

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