Today’s question: “What happens if you are arrested and charged with driving under the influence of drugs? Let’s say prescription drugs. What does the prosecutor have to prove to obtain a conviction?” This question comes to me more frequently today than ever before, probably because more and more people who are taking medications prescribed by their doctor seemingly intersect with police officers who insist that they are operating a motor vehicle while impaired. So here goes – let’s start with the basics.
First, the law is clear, it is illegal to drive or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A person is “under the influence” pursuant to Idaho Code § 18-8004 if the person’s ability to drive is impaired in some identifiable way by alcohol, drugs or intoxicating substances.
Second, the state can prove a person is “under the influence” by the “totality of the evidence.” The judge will permit admission of all kinds of evidence the state argues proves impairment. This evidence may include failed field sobriety tests, statements made by the driver, officer observations (“his eyes were bloodshot and he looked impaired”), lab results, prior drug use, and actual driving pattern. For example, striking a road sign while driving home from the bar at 0230 is going to be “some evidence” that your driving is impaired – but was it impaired as a result of alcohol, drugs or intoxicating substances? That is the state’s burden, to prove that the drugs caused impairment. And that is a tough burden in many cases.
Third, none of this means that the state must rely on direct evidence (example – lab results showing the presence of 10 times the usual measurement for that prescription drug) to win. The state can win its case based on circumstantial evidence of the type I described above. But from my experience, the audio and video recordings of the driving pattern and officer interview will provide a good measuring stick for likely conviction or not. In other words – if you look and sound like you are under the influence, a jury is likely to believe you are guilty.
Still, there is hope in your case if your are charged with driving while impaired by a prescription medication. The meds may not be the reason you were driving poorly. Some folks are simply poor drivers, medicated or not. And it is not always easy to convince a jury that a medication they may also take could be the basis for a DUI conviction. So if that is the basis for the impairment, you should consider taking the case to trial.
In the past few months we have seen some of these cases simply dismissed as we got closer to trial and others reduced to reckless driving. If you have been charged with DUI – call a lawyer. Get some help. These cases really do matter as that DUI conviction can result in the loss of your driving privileges, substantial fines and court costs, and time in jail. And the state will always have a lawyer in the courtroom to prosecute the case. You may be wise and knowledgable in many areas of life, but there is no substitute for experience in that battleground.