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Charged with DUI for Prescription Medication Only

  • By: Ron Hedding
  • Published: April 13, 2020

Can You Be Charged with a DUI in Los Angeles if You Only Have Your Prescribed Medication in Your System?

This question comes up all the time where people are driving around and either get in an accident or the police pull them over and they’ve only got their prescribed medication in their system — no alcohol, no other illegal drugs.  They come into my office because they’ve been cited into a courthouse for driving under the influence.

Realize driving under the influence under California Vehicle Code 23152 is not just alcohol.  Driving under the influence of anything that impairs your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle is the key test that juries, judges and prosecutors are going to look at when determining whether or not you should be convicted of a DUI.

For example, a number of years ago I had a client who was an attorney and he decided before he left his office that once he got home he wanted to fall right to sleep because he was tired.  He was working late at his office.  He knew he had to get up early the next morning, so he took an Ambien.

On the way home on the 101 Freeway, he crashed into the center divider, was eventually arrested and charged with driving under the influence.  He had no alcohol in his system and no illegal drugs.  He had the Ambien which had been prescribed by his doctor.

He was charged with a DUI because he had something in his system that caused him to not be able to safely operate a motor vehicle.  He should have known not to take the Ambien before he left the office.  That’s really where they’re judging you is when you’re sober.

They’re not going to judge you when you’re under the influence of Ambien.  You can’t really make any decisions, especially if it hits you hard enough which it obviously hit him.

 Involuntary Intoxication Defense in DUI Cases

The point is anything in your system they’re going to try to charge you with a DUI.  Now, there are defenses.  Let’s say that you’re at a bar.  You’re the designated driver and somebody slips something into your ginger ale.  You don’t know about it.  That’s involuntary intoxication. Charged with DUI for Prescription Medication Only

That can be a defense to a DUI.  You didn’t know.  It’s not your fault.  If you can prove — let’s say we can get video from the bar showing somebody slipping something into your drink — the prosecutors aren’t going to prosecute that case.  Once they realize that they’ll dismiss it themselves because they know they’re going to get their asses whipped at trial.

Where it starts to get a little bit more tricky is when a doctor prescribes you medication, you take it, somehow you have a bad reaction to it.  Now they’re going to start to get into, what did the doctor tell you about that?  Are you allowed to drive?  What does the bottle on the prescription say about you being able to drive?

And of course, if you mix alcohol with a prescription medication, even if your alcohol level is below .08, they’re going to still be able to get you for a DUI if they can prove that you couldn’t safely operate a motor vehicle by way of how you were walking, talking, driving, how you performed on the field sobriety test.  That’s really what’s meant to be used to test whether someone can safely operate a motor vehicle.

Defenses for Prescription Medication DUI

So, you start to see how these things are evaluated when they are determining whether or not — even though you didn’t have alcohol in your system in Los Angeles county — somebody can charge you with a DUI.  That’s where somebody like me who’s been doing this 26 years comes in.

If you’ve got an argument that either you really shouldn’t have known — no reasonable person would have known that they were going to be under the influence. Maybe somebody slipped something in your drink — there’s all sorts of different angles.

But, of course, whatever the argument is you have to be able to bring evidence to support it and you have to have an advocate that’s powerful that can make the argument for you so that it actually makes sense.  A jury believes it or the prosecutors believe it themselves and end up dismissing the case.

If you’re drinking alcohol — even if you’re under the legal limit — and you’re mixing it with prescription drugs, that’s an example of unreasonableness.  You can’t do that.  You’re putting yourself and others on the road in jeopardy.  You’re likely going to lose that argument.

So, really have to look at the facts and circumstances surrounding what happened, surrounding your arrest, surrounding how you became intoxicated.  Another thing is, were you intoxicated?  Sometimes someone might take some prescription meds and get in accident — maybe the accident is not their fault.  Maybe they just made a mistake and it had nothing to do with him being intoxicated.

Experienced DUI Lawyer in Los Angeles

So you start again to get a feel for how these things are evaluated and how important it is to have an attorney who has experience. Not only in defending DUI cases that don’t involve alcohol, but also in defending people in the courthouse were your case is pending.

You need a lawyer who knows how the jury is, know how the judges are, the tendencies of the prosecutors. A whole bunch of different factors play into this and if you’re talking about drugs and talking about DUI’s you have to know how to deal with a Drug Recognition Expert.

Because the police — if they’re halfway smart — and they’re not always — sometimes they’re using alcohol-related tests to test somebody who has no alcohol in their system.  Stupid, they’re not going to be able to use the results of that test.

But if they’re smart and they see that you didn’t blow anything in the breath machine, they’re going to say, there’s still something wrong with this person.  Then they’re going to get a Drug Recognition Expert who’s going to perform the appropriate tests on you.

They will also perform number of other tests that are designed to determine whether or not you’re under the influence of something, number one and number two, whether you can safely operate a motor vehicle.

Now, if they get somebody who’s an expert to be able to testify against you, now they start to get some leverage to be able to build a case to get you for a DUI even if you didn’t have any alcohol in your system.

Ron Hedding

About the Author Named Top Los Angeles DUI Defence Attorney by LA Times and named one of the Top 100 DUI Defence attorneys in California by the National Trial Lawyers Association. I'm the attorney other lawyers hire to defend them.