Many drivers are not aware that they can be charged with driving while impaired (DWI) if they take legally prescribed medications. As an Asheville DUI lawyer will explain to them, North Carolina law has a very hard stance on any kind of impairment, including by drugs prescribed by a doctor for various health conditions. Here is what you need to know about DUI for prescription medications in Asheville.
North Carolina Includes Prescription Drugs among Impairing Substances
North Carolina Statutes 20-138.1 defines impaired driving as the act of operating a vehicle:
- Under the influence of any impairing substance
- With a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or more
- With any amount of Schedule I controlled substances.
Further on, the legislators define impairing substances as “any other drug or psychoactive substance capable of impairing a person’s physical or mental faculties.”
Moreover, the law does not allow a driver to invoke the defense that the respective substance was legally prescribed (the defense precluded doctrine).
Types of Prescription Medicines That May Get You Charged With DWI
Many prescription drugs have side effects such as dizziness or drowsiness which can lead to impairment behind the wheel. Also, these side effects may be increased by other factors, such as foods you eat or other supplements and drugs you take.
In general, the following drugs are very likely to cause impairment or to determine the state to charge you with DWI if they are found in your system:
- Narcotic pain medicines, including opioids
- Anti-anxiety drugs
- Cough syrup
- Sleeping pills
Probable Cause in a DUI for Prescription Drugs
Each person responds differently to medications. A person may take their pills and have quick and sharp reflexes behind the wheel, while another may experience a state of confusion and slowed responses.
An experienced Asheville DUI attorney knows that prosecutors have to show probable cause for pulling you over and getting you to submit to a blood test if your BAC level is 0 or within the legal limit.
The factors that create the probable cause are:
- How the drug affects your ability to drive safely
- The way you perform field sobriety tests
- Whether you are taking the medication as prescribed
- Whether the drugs come with clear warnings not to drive or operate heavy machinery while you are taking them.
Common Signs of Impairment Caused by Prescription Drugs
The police officer who pulls you over will note every instance of your driving and behavior that may support the DWI charge. These instances usually include:
- Advanced drowsiness
- Being confused or dizzy
- Lack of hand and eye coordination
- Slower reaction time (even at the level of answering questions)
- Unusual or strange behavior
- Slurred speech
- Red or droopy eyes.
How Will the Prosecutor Prove the DWI Charges Against You?
When it comes to DUI for prescription drugs, the prosecution does not have a BAC above the legal threshold to prove that you broke the law. However, there is a legal concept called “appreciably impaired.”
The concept was introduced in the State vs. Harrington case. The defendant, Edward Harrington, filed an appeal on three counts of error in their DUI sentencing, including the fact that the police officer had wrongly evaluated him as being grossly impaired.
However, the North Carolina Court of Appeal maintained the initial conviction, stating that the officer had sufficient grounds to pull him over and charge him as he was “noticeably and measurably intoxicated”.
Thus, the prosecutor may use expert witnesses to testify to the usual side effects of the drugs you took, as well as footage from the police officer’s bodycam to prove their case against you under the “appreciably impaired” doctrine.
Hire a Skilled Asheville DUI Lawyer to Build Your Defense!
A DUI for prescription drugs is just as serious as driving under the influence of alcohol in North Carolina. For this reason, if you were charged with DWI for taking prescription medications, get in touch with an experienced Asheville DUI lawyer as soon as possible.
We offer each new client a free case evaluation, so call us today at 828-759-5556!