Many people in Arizona are unaware that they can be charged and prosecuted for a DUI on drugs for driving while taking certain types of legally prescribed medications. Some Arizonans who are following their physicians' orders are arrested by the police and charged with a DUI on prescription medication when the officers believe that they are impaired.
According to the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University, 131 million Americans take prescription drugs each day. An even higher percentage of older adults take prescription medications. Many prescription medications do not impair your driving ability. However, if an officer believes that you are impaired by your medications, you can still be arrested and charged with a DUI.
Attorney Michael Alarid III is an experienced DUI defense lawyer and is one out of only five attorneys in Arizona who has passed the certification exam from the National College for DUI Defense (NCDD) to become Board Certified in DUI Defense Law. With his combination of legal knowledge and litigation skills, he has successfully defended many clients against allegations of DUI on drugs.
How a DUI on Prescription Medication can be Charged in Arizona
In Arizona, there are two ways you can be charged with a DUI for prescription medications. Both ways are found in Arizona's DUI statute at ARS § 28-1381.
Under ARS § 28-1381(A)(1), you can be charged with a DUI if you drive while impaired to any degree by your prescription medications. This subsection prohibits driving while you are under the influence of any drug or alcohol, including legally prescribed medications.
If you drive with any amount of a prescription drug for which you do not have a valid prescription, you can also be charged with a DUI under ARS § 1381(A)(3). This is a per se offense, meaning that it will not matter whether you were impaired or not by the drugs in your system. This subsection also prohibits driving with any amount of illegal drugs in your system or active metabolites of marijuana. You can defend against a charge under this subsection by showing you had a valid prescription at the time of your stop and arrest and you were taking your medication as prescribed, however.
Having a Valid Prescription as a DUI Defense
Many people think that presenting a valid prescription will get their DUI charges dismissed. However, this is only true for a DUI charged under ARS § 1381(A)(3) and even then the prescription is an affirmative defense where you have to prove that you were taking your medication as prescribed. A valid prescription is not a defense to an impairment DUI charged under ARS § 1381(A)(1).
If your driving was impaired by your prescription medication, you could still be convicted of an impairment DUI. A valid prescription is a defense to a per se offense in which showing impairment is not required since prescribed drugs are not illegal. If you only had legally prescribed drugs in your system, and you can prove that you were taking it as prescribed, the prosecutor should only proceed on the impairment DUI offense under ARS § 1381(A)(1).
How Police Identify Drivers They Suspect of Being Under the Influence of Drugs
For alcohol, Arizona has a per se limit of 0.08%. This is the amount of alcohol that is viewed to be impairing. Prescription drugs do not have a corresponding threshold amount for impairment.
Similarly, the standardized field sobriety tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are standardized for use by officers to detect impairment caused by alcohol but have not been standardized for use to detect impairment caused by other drugs.
Without a test, this means that the state is forced to rely on the officer's subjective testimony about his or her observations to determine impairment.
Because of these issues in prosecuting DUIs based on legally prescribed medications, law enforcement agencies have designed drug recognition programs. These programs provide training to officers in recognition of symptoms of drug use and impairment. The training is brief, but once an officer completes it, he or she will be certified as a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).
When a patrol officer stops someone who he or she believes might be impaired by drugs, the officer will call a DRE to the scene. The DRE will use a battery of tests to determine whether or not the driver is impaired and whether the driver's impairment might be related to a medical condition or drugs. This combination of tests has not been validated by any outside research studies.
The only studies that have been completed were done by drug recognition programs themselves, making them biased.
DRE officers have little training but still claim to be experts. When they suspect that a driver is impaired, those suspicions will nearly always be confirmed by their evaluation of the DRE test results. This type of confirmation bias can lead to wrongful arrests and DUI charges for people who are not impaired by their prescription medications.
Penalties for a Prescription Drugs DUI
If you are convicted of driving under the influence of prescription drugs as a first offense, you can face the following penalties:
- Jail from 1 day up to six months
- Up to five years of probation
- Suspension of your driver's license for 90 days with a restricted license available for the final 60 days
- Community service at the judge's discretion
- Ignition interlock device at the judge's discretion for 12 months
- Drug and alcohol assessment and complying with treatment recommendations
- Mandatory traffic survival school
- Possible SR-22 insurance for up to three years
- Fines, assessments, and costs totaling around $2,000
The court is not required to order the installation of an ignition interlock device for DUI convictions based on prescription drugs. However, the court can order you to install an ignition interlock device at the judge's discretion.
If you are convicted of a DUI on prescription drugs when you have had a previous DUI conviction in the last seven years, you will face the following penalties:
- Jail from 90 days (60 of which may be suspended) up to six months
- Up to five years of probation
- Fines, costs, and assessments totaling around $3,500
- Suspension of your driver's license for 12 months
- Ignition interlock device at the judge's discretion
- 30+ hours of community service
- SR-22 insurance for up to three years
- Traffic survival school
For the jail sentence, the final 60 days of the minimum 90-day sentence can be suspended if you complete a drug and alcohol assessment and comply with the treatment recommendations. If home detention is available, the 30 days can be reduced to six days in jail, followed by 24 days on home detention.
If you have to serve 30 days in jail, you can apply for the jail's work-release program after you serve 48 hours in jail. This would allow you to leave the jail each day to go to work for up to 12 hours six days per week.
You will be eligible for a restricted license to drive to work, school, court, or medical appointments after 45 days have passed. If you get a restricted license, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle.
Potential Defenses for a DUI on Prescription Medication
When you meet with an attorney at the Law Office of Michael Alarid III, they will examine your case to identify the defenses that might be available to you. One potential defense that might apply could include problems with the vehicle stop. If the officer did not have a reasonable suspicion that you had committed a traffic offense or other crime, your attorney might challenge the stop.
If the court finds that the officer's stop violated the Fourth Amendment, any evidence that was subsequently collected will be inadmissible, leaving the prosecutor with no choice other than to dismiss your case.
Your attorney will also review how the officer and the DRE investigated your case. This might include how any tests were performed. Officers sometimes make mistakes during their investigations that can be used in your defense.
If you are charged with a per se offense but have a valid prescription for the drugs in your system, then you have a viable affirmative defense. If you can show the prosecutor, or the jury at a trial, that you were taking your medication as prescribed, then the prosecutor may dismiss this count or the jury may find you not guilty of this count. This can be done through cross-examination and expert testimony. You may still have to fight the impairment charge.
Why You Should Hire a Prescription Drugs DUI Defense attorney
If you are facing charges of driving while under the influence of prescription drugs, you should retain an experienced defense lawyer as soon as possible.
Call the Law Office of Michael Alarid III to request an appointment at (602) 818-3110.
If you are charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, representing yourself could lead to much harsher penalties. This is because Arizona is well-known for having some of the strictest DUI laws in the nation.
By hiring DUI defense attorney Michael Alarid III, your chances of potential jail time and costly fines are significantly reduced, as opposed to representing yourself. Your attorney will be at your side throughout the entire process to fight your charges strategically and aggressively.
The extensive knowledge of Arizona DUI laws and effective defense tactics proven to reduce or even dismiss entire cases makes the Law Office of Michael Alarid III a great choice to protect your freedom. Call today (602) 818-3110 to schedule your free consultation.