Written by Stryder Wegener
Many DUI charges are the result of a simple error in judgment, particularly situations involving prescription drugs. Taking your medication on an empty stomach or in combination with a new prescription can have unexpected effects that lead to impairment. Despite the fact that you didn’t intend to drive while impaired, you can unfortunately find yourself facing a DUI (driving under the influence) charge.
At Emerald City Law Group, a Seattle DUI attorney understands the situation you’re in and what’s at stake. If you’ve been charged with prescription drug DUI, we can help. Call us today at (206) 973-0407, or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
Drunk driving laws are aimed at preventing people from driving while impaired, whether as a result of drinking alcohol or consuming drugs. Washington State is no different. Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Section 46.61.502 prohibits driving a motor vehicle “while the person is under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug.” The phrase “any drug” includes prescription drugs – if they impact your ability to drive.
It’s important to also note that the statute expressly states that being “entitled to use a drug under the laws of this state shall not constitute a defense against a charge of violating this section.” In other words, you can still be convicted of DUI even though you were taking your medication with a valid prescription, and as directed by your physician.
The main challenge in DUI prescription drug cases is whether the prosecution can prove you were impaired. In alcohol-related DUI cases, they rely heavily on blood alcohol content (BAC) test results. If a test shows that your BAC was .08% or higher, the prosecution could have a strong case against you.
In prescription drug DUI cases, impairment is more difficult to prove. The statute does not provide any measurable threshold such as a BAC that is used to determine that you are presumably impaired. On the one hand, this works in your favor, as there is no hard evidence that the prosecution can point to in order to convict you of DUI. On the other hand, unfortunately, they can still convict you of DUI in relying upon the arresting officer’s observations and the mere presence of a drug in your system.
If you’re charged with prescription drug DUI, the prosecution will attempt to prove that you were driving while impaired with the following evidence:
- You were driving erratically or committed a traffic infraction at the time you were pulled over.
- The officer observed that you were visibly impaired. Slurred speech, watery eyes, difficulty communicating or following directions are all indications of this behavior.
- You performed poorly on the field sobriety tests.
That said, it’s important to remember that the officer’s observations are highly subjective. An experienced DUI defense lawyer can challenge the prosecution’s case by undermining the validity of these observations.
Potential Penalties of a Prescription Drug DUI
Prescription drug DUI cases are taken just as seriously as alcohol-related DUIs, and are subject to the same penalties. The severity of your punishment will vary according to the details surrounding your case, and whether you have prior DUI convictions. If convicted, you face the following possible consequences:
- Up to 364 days in jail (with a minimum sentence of 24 hours)
- Fines reaching $5,000
- Suspension of your driver’s license for 90 days
- Alcohol or drug counseling
- Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)
Second DUI – BAC Under .15%
- 30 to 364 days in jail
- Electric home monitoring
- $500 to $5,000 in fines
- A driver’s license suspension of up to two years
- Alcohol education classes
Second DUI – BAC at or Above .15%
- 45 to 364 days in jail
- Electric home monitoring
- Fines between $750 and $5,000
- Driver’s license suspension of up to 900 days
- Potential substance abuse education
Other factors may increase these penalties, such as whether there were minors in the vehicle, or you caused an accident that resulted in injury. Due to the wide-ranging effects of a conviction, you should reach out to a DUI lawyer as soon as possible.
Contact Us Today for Help With Your Case
Prosecutors will pursue a drunk driving conviction with harsh penalties. Some people think that if they cooperate, the prosecutors will be lenient, but this is often a mistake. The prosecution won’t tell you about the weaknesses in their case that may result in dismissal, or that you are entitled to a lighter punishment than they are seeking. An experienced DUI defense lawyer can identify the weaknesses in their case, challenge the evidence, and seek a lenient sentence if they can’t get the charge dismissed.
At Emerald City Law Group, our experienced Seattle DUI lawyers know how to fight for you to get a fair case outcome. If you’d like to learn about how we can help you, schedule a free consultation by calling (206) 973-0407, or by filling out our online contact form.