If you’re taking a prescription medication, a police officer can arrest you for driving under the influence (DUI) of that drug if the officer has probable cause to believe that the drug impaired your ability to drive safely. That arrest can be made even if your use of the drug was perfectly legal. Here are three lessons that might prevent you from being arrested if you are driving while using a prescription drug in California.
Lesson 1: Follow Your Doctor’s Advice
Before you get behind the wheel, ask your doctor whether it is safe to drive while taking the dose of medication that your doctor prescribed. If your doctor says “yes,” you have an expert on your side who may be a valuable witness if you are arrested for driving under the influence of that drug.
Doctors are reluctant to testify in court, but they often feel a responsibility to act as a patient’s advocate when the patient is in trouble for following the doctor’s advice. If you are arrested for a prescription drug DUI after relying on your doctor’s assurance that it is safe to drive while using the drug, your doctor may feel an obligation to testify on your behalf. That testimony will carry huge weight with the jury.
Of course, your doctor’s answer assumes that you are not taking more of the drug than the doctor prescribed. Never exceed the prescribed dose. If you do, your excess consumption will probably show up in a blood test.
And, of course, if your doctor tells you not to drive while using the prescription drug, you should follow that advice. If you disregard it, you put your life at risk and increase the chance that you will be convicted of prescription drug DUI.
Lesson 2: Never Tell The Police What Drugs You Are Taking
If a police officer pulls you over for a traffic violation, the officer will be itching to arrest you for DUI. Police officers have unofficial ticket quotas that determine promotions and professional status, but they score additional points for making DUI arrests.
Officers are trained to look for glassy eyes, slurred speech, difficulty finding a driver’s license in a wallet, incoherent responses to questions, and similar indicators that a driver might be under the influence of an intoxicating beverage or drug. If the officer believes you exhibit any of those signs, the officer will make further inquiries. That is especially true if the officer pulled you over for dangerous driving (swerving, crossing the centerline, running a red light) rather than an ordinary speeding violation.
If an officer suspects you of DUI, the officer will probably ask you to engage in field sobriety tests (FSTs). You might be arrested on suspicion of DUI if you fail to take the tests, so lesson 3 gives you some advice to help you “pass” the tests. Unfortunately, many officers count even the slightest flaw in FST performance as “failing” the test.
The officer might then ask you to blow into a portable, handheld breath testing device. If you have not been drinking alcohol, you have nothing to fear. The breath test will not detect your use of prescription drugs.
Puzzled by the fact that the test result showed no presence of alcohol, the officer might suspect you are under the influence of a drug. The easiest way for the officer to gain evidence that will confirm that suspicion is to obtain your admission that you using a drug. Remember that whether you are using the drug legally does not matter if the drug-impaired your ability to drive safely.
The best way to avoid a prescription drug DUI arrest is to refuse to answer the officer’s question about your drug use. Do not lie to the officer. You might face a different criminal charge for telling a lie. Instead, politely tell the officer that you will not answer that question unless you have a lawyer present. No matter what the officer says after that, stick to your guns. You have the right to remain silent whether or not the officer warns you of that right. If you refuse to give the officer proof that you are using a prescription drug, the officer might decide that there is no basis for arresting you.
Lesson 3: Pay Attention When You Take Field Sobriety Tests
The officer might give you field sobriety tests. One of those tests, called the horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, has the officer looking for the onset of “jerkiness” in your eyes while your eyes are tracking a pen or some other object. Don’t worry about that test. Nothing you can do will influence the outcome, but the HGN is not a valid means of detecting prescription drug use.
The other two FSTs are tricky. The police want you to believe that your balance and coordination are being tested, but you are also being tested on your ability to remember and follow instructions.
For example, before taking the “one-leg stand” test, you will be told to keep your arms down at your sides. If you raise your arms, you will lose a point on the test. Before taking the “walk in a straight line” test, you will be told to walk heel-to-toe for nine steps and to turn by taking a series of short, choppy steps. If you pivot instead of taking the short steps, if you take too many or too few steps, or if your heel does not touch your toe, you will lose points.
Listen closely to the officer’s instructions. Most police rush through them. It may be difficult to hear them if traffic is passing. Always ask the officer to repeat the instructions and to speak more clearly so that you can be sure to understand and remember them. You have a much better chance of passing the FSTs if you remember that the tests are about following instructions, not just about your ability to maintain balance.
Facing charges? Call (844) 241-1221 to speak with a prescription drug DUI lawyer about your case. Our attorneys have years of experience, one being a former District Attorney prosecutor. Call today to find out what options you have available to help you avoid a conviction on your criminal record.