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DUI while on Prescription Medication or Dangerous Drugs

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DUI Charges While On Prescription Medication

Many Arizonans are surprised when they are charged with a DUI on drugs for their legally prescribed medications. However, Arizona’s DUI laws allow you to be charged with a DUI on prescription drugs when an officer believes that you are impaired to the slightest degree by your medication.

In certain cases, people will be stopped by the police and told that they are allegedly impaired, even though they are following their doctors’ orders. If you face these types of charges, you should get help from experienced DUI attorneys at Colburn Hintze Maletta.

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DUI Drugs for Prescription Medication

The Issue with Charges of Drugged DUI for Prescription Medications

Prescription drug DUIs are problematic. Millions of people rely on the advice of their doctors to treat their medical conditions. According to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, 66% of adults in the US take one or more prescription drugs. Many prescription drugs do not impair driving and might improve it. Body chemistry differs from person to person, and prescription drugs may have different impacts on different people.

Depending on a person’s age, chemistry, and other substances he or she takes, a prescription drug may have a broad range of therapeutic or detrimental effects.

An officer’s determination of impairment is also largely subjective and based on his or her observations. This means that you might be charged with driving on painkillers when you are not truly impaired, based solely on the opinion of the arresting officer.

DUI on Drugs Under ARS 28-1381(A)(1) and (A)(3)

You can be charged with a DUI on prescription drugs under two separate sections of ARS 28-1381. Under ARS 28-1381(A)(1), it is illegal to drive or to be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while you are impaired by any drug, alcohol, or combination of drugs and alcohol. This statute is a zero-tolerance law that strictly prohibits driving under the influence of drugs, including those that are legally prescribed.

Because there are a continuous amount of new types of pharmaceuticals released regularly, it is difficult to maintain a complete list of all that can impair someone’s driving. However, there are types of pills that can influence someone’s ability to drive.

These include prescription medications and over-the-counter pills such as:

  • Medications for Allergies
  • Anxiety and Anti-depressants
  • Medications that contain Codeine
  • Cold & Flu medications
  • Certain diet pills
  • Opioids and other painkillers
  • Sleeping pills

You can also be charged with a DUI under ARS 28-1381(A)(3) if you drive with any amount of an illegal drug in your system. This includes driving while you have prescription drugs in your system for which you do not have a valid prescription.

This is a strict-liability Arizona DUI law because it does not matter whether you are impaired by the illegal drug in your system.

However, if you are charged with a DUI under (A)(3), you can defend against it by showing you had a valid prescription for the drug at the time of your arrest. In many cases, prosecutors will charge people with DUIs under both (A)(1) and (A)(3) to try to secure convictions. If you are convicted under both subsections, however, you will only receive one sentence. Having a valid prescription is not a defense to a DUI under (A)(1).

How Police Identify Drugged Drivers

While Arizona has a per se limit for alcohol of 0.08%, there isn’t a corresponding impairment level for drugs. Drug tests do not provide a presumption of impairment. Instead, a drug test estimates the concentration of drugs in your system based on a blood or urine sample. This means that drugged DUIs are frequently based on the subjective and biased testimony of police officers that they believed the drivers were impaired based on their observations.

Law enforcement agencies have created their own methods of testing for drug impairment by implementing drug recognition training programs. Officers who complete these programs are designated as drug recognition experts or DREs.

However, the training is not medical and is short. After going through this class, the officers take a certification test and then claim to be experts in recognizing drug use and impairment.

The tests used by DREs are not supported by outside scientific studies. Instead, these tests are only supported by biased studies and programs created by law enforcement agencies.

When a patrol officer conducts a DUI stop and suspects that the driver may be under the influence of drugs, he or she will call a DRE to the scene. The DREs administer a battery of tests to determine whether the driver is impaired and whether the impairment is related to a medical condition or drugs. They also make an initial determination about the type of drugs that may be causing impairment.


Potential Problems of Drug Recognition Experts in Court

DRE officers have little training and are biased against defendants who face drugged DUI charges. They rarely admit to committing errors even when chemical blood tests demonstrate that they are wrong.

Drug recognition experts will nearly always confirm their suspicions of impairment in their evaluations.

For example, if you tell a DRE that you are prescribed pain pills for neuralgia, the DRE will likely conclude you are impaired and charge you with driving on painkillers.

What are the Penalties for Prescription Drug DUI Convictions?

As previously mentioned, you will only receive one sentence if you are convicted of a prescription drug DUI under both subsections of the DUI statute.

If you are convicted of a first time DUI drug offense, you will face the following penalties:

  • Jail from 10 days up to six months
  • Driver’s license suspension for 90 days
  • Probation for up to five years
  • Fines and fees of approximately $1,800
  • Substance abuse screening and classes
  • Community service at the judge’s discretion
  • Traffic survival school
  • SR-22 insurance for up to three years
  • 8 points added to your Arizona MVD record

For the jail sentence, nine of the 10 mandatory minimum days can be suspended if you complete a substance abuse screening and recommended classes. The court can also order an ignition interlock device from 6 to 12 months, but it is not required for a drugged DUI conviction.

For your driver’s license suspension, the final 60 days can often be served on a restricted license, which will allow you to drive to work or school.

If the judge orders you to install an ignition interlock device, you will be required to pay for it at your own expense. The fees for IIDs are expensive and can greatly increase the costs of a DUI conviction.

If you are convicted of a second DUI within seven years, the jail time will be increased to a minimum mandatory sentence of 90 days, with 30 days to be served consecutively.

If your DUI defense attorney can argue for you to serve a portion of your sentence on home detention, it is possible for you to serve as few as six days in jail, followed by 24 days on home detention.

However, this option is not available in some Arizona courts. If home detention is not available to you, you will have to serve at least 30 days in jail. After you serve 48 hours, you will have the option to participate in a work-release program. This allows you to leave the jail for work six days per week up to 12 hours per day and return at night to sleep.

A second DUI drug conviction within seven years will result in fines, jail costs, and fees totaling around $5,000. Your driver’s license will also be revoked for 12 months.

After you complete 45 days of the revocation, you can apply to receive a restricted license to travel to and from school, work, court appointments, and medical appointments.

Additionally, you will have to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle and pay for SR-22 insurance to get a restricted license. A second DUI conviction will also result in at least 30 hours of community service, SR-22 insurance for up to three years, and mandatory attendance at traffic survival school.

A third DUI conviction of any type within seven years can be charged as an aggravated DUI, which is a class 4 felony.

This type of conviction can result in prison time and should prompt you to hire an experienced lawyer as soon as possible after you have been charged with a felony drugged driving offense in Arizona.

Get Help from an Experienced Prescription Drug DUI Defense Attorney

If you are facing DUI charges for prescription drugs, you should get legal help. The experienced attorneys at Colburn Hintze Maletta can analyze your case and explain the legal options you might have available to you.

Being charged with a DUI does not mean that you will be convicted of the offense. We are often able to identify defenses that allow us to secure reduced charges and penalties or outright DUI dismissals of the charges against our clients.

To learn more about how we can help you, contact Colburn Hintze Maletta today by calling our office at (602) 825-2500.

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