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Can You Get a DUI on Legal Prescription Drugs?

Posted by Ronald D. Hedding | Jun 17, 2019

Over the past twenty-five years of defending DUI cases in the Los Angeles area, I have seen many developments in this area of law for good and the bad (of course, it all depends on your perspective). Prescription drugs/medications are beginning to play more and more in DUI cases in courthouses across Los Angeles and California.

The number of arrests I am seeing related to prescription medications has risen to a dramatic level, and people need to start becoming aware of the position they put themselves in when they get behind the wheel of a car with anything in their system that alters their ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.

This is a complex area, and if you have a DUI case pending related to this subject matter, you should come in for a consultation so we can discuss your specific circumstances and begin the process of coming up with solutions that make sense and work for you. The goal will be to leave my office with a plan for how the case will be defended and what you can do to assist.

If someone abuses prescription medications or takes medication they do not have a prescription for and is pulled over and arrested for a DUI; most people can see and understand the problem with this scenario.

However, when someone takes their prescribed medication in the right amount and is later arrested for a DUI, then it becomes less clear whether the DUI arrest is valid and the person can be successfully prosecuted.

The critical thing to remember in this area of law is that the police, prosecutors, and judges who dispense justice in this area of law are looking out for the community at large and will assess your actions based on a standard that protects that community and uses common sense to evaluate whether you did anything wrong.

Like most things in life, whether a person can be prosecuted for taking prescription medication and driving depends on several factors. Something that the judge and prosecutor will consider include, but are not limited to, what the warning label says on the subject medication, whether the medication was mixed with anything else (like other prescription medications or alcohol), and most importantly, how the person was driving when they were pulled over.

Where are they swerving all over the road? Did they end up in an accident? Was their speech slurred when the officer talked to them? Where are they staggering when they exited their vehicle? Could they successfully pass the field sobriety tests given by the police?

Lawful Use of Prescription Medication

In my experience, the dividing line between when it is OK to drive with prescription medication in your system and when it is not related to reasonableness and common sense. Take a pill and later crash into the center divider on the freeway. You will have a tough road to convince anyone that the medication did not affect you and that you could safely operate a motor vehicle.

If, on the other hand, you take your medication and someone crashes into you, and it is clear that the accident was their fault, then your DUI defense attorney will have a strong argument that you did not do anything wrong or criminal.

When we talk about reasonableness, we discuss what the average reasonable person would do under the circumstances. For example, it is not OK to take an Ambien before you get home, so you can fall right to sleep when you get home.

This is an unreasonable risk to you and the other people on the road who might be affected if the Ambien kicks in before you arrive home. Hence, when I am in court arguing these cases to a judge or jury, they evaluate my arguments and the client's fate based on whether what they did was reasonable under the circumstances. Sometimes it is not completely clear whether it was good or not. Of course, this is where a skilled DUI defense attorney comes in to make the right moves for you and guide you through a sometimes complex, political, and complicated system.

In my opinion, your first move should be to set up a face-to-face consultation so we can flush out where you stand, what actions you can take to help yourself, and finally, what plan makes the most sense for you and your future.

About the Author

Ronald D. Hedding

What Makes Ronald Hedding Uniquely Qualified To Represent You? I've been practicing criminal defense for almost 30 years and have handled thousands of cases, including all types of state and federal sex crime cases. All consultations are discreet and confidential.

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