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Getting a DUI on Legal Drugs

There are two ways to commit the criminal offense of drunk driving.

The first is for a person to drive a vehicle while they’re over the legal limit of alcohol. The second way is for a person to drive a vehicle while they’re under the influence of drugs. Many people are surprised to learn that a person can drive illegally under the influence of drugs even if the drugs they take are legal. In most cases, this refers to prescription drugs.

Preparing a defense

Fortunately, a person who faces a charge of DUI on legal drugs can receive bail while they wait for the state to process evidence. If they’re unable to post the full amount, they can work with a bail bonds company in order to secure bond until future court dates. Working with a bail bonds company to post bond allows the accused to help their attorney gather critical evidence as they wait for future court dates.

There’s no specific legal limit for driving under the influence of druggs. With alcohol, there’s a legal limit that determines when a person is breaking the law regardless of whether the alcohol influences their ability to drive. With drugs, there’s no bright line that makes a person a drunk driver per se. Rather, the police need to prove that that the driver operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of the drugs or that the drugs influenced the driver’s ability to drive in a normal manner.

This can be a difficult thing for law enforcement to prove. They may try to show that the driver didn’t act in a normal way. They might point to slurred speech, fumbling to reach their driver’s license or difficulty getting out of the vehicle. They might claim that the person performed poorly on sobriety or dexterity tests.

Other explanations

Even so, proving that it was a prescription medication that influenced a person’s ability to drive is no easy task for law enforcement. Drugs affect each person in a different way. A defense attorney can argue that it wasn’t the drugs that caused a person to slur their speech or stumble. Perhaps nervousness to be interacting with law enforcement or an uneven road surface caused the driver’s behaviors instead. It’s up to the jury to make the final decision as to the effect of the drugs on the driver.

Gathering evidence for a DUI on legal drugs case usually involves a blood test. Drugs don’t show up in the breath. That is, a driver isn’t going to register a number on a breathalyzer test if they’ve taken only legal drugs.

Instead, if the police think that the driver is under the influence of legal drugs, they’ll ask the driver to submit to a blood test. In many cases, it takes a long time for a state laboratory to process a blood test. A defense attorney might argue that this delay violates the accused’s right to a speedy trial.

Likely penalties

Even though the elements of a DUI on legal drugs case are a little bit different than a DUI case that involves alcohol, the penalties are typically the same. A person that’s convicted might face significant jail time. If the person convicted has a prior drunk driving charge, they might face enhanced charges even if the prior conviction is for an alcohol-related offense.

Most drunk driving convictions also carry a mandatory license suspension. The more serious the offense, the longer the likely suspension. If the offender is found not guilty or pleads guilty to a reduced charge, this license suspension may be shortened or eliminated. In many cases, a convicted drunk driver serves a term of probation even if their conviction resulted from the use of legal drugs instead of alcohol.

Possible constitutional defenses

As with all criminal investigations, the police need a lawful reason in order to stop a vehicle to conduct an investigation for DUI on legal drugs. A defense attorney can evaluate the case to see if the police had lawful grounds for the stop. If they didn’t, the attorney can make a motion to ask the court to dismiss the charges before the case even proceeds to trial. This is in addition to any defenses that may be available to the offender based on the state’s inability to prove their case.

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