In Pennsylvania a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) charge is not limited to alcohol. Those drivers found operating a vehicle with drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs, in their system can be charged with DUI.
DUI Drug Testing
Because drugs cannot be detected by a standard roadside breath test, police will often transport the driver to a medical facility to administer a blood or urine test if they suspect that a driver is under the influence of intoxicating substances–whether they are illegal or legal. These tests can detect a variety of drugs in the system.
Under the old Pennsylvania D.U.I. law, the prosecution had to prove that drugs impaired your ability to drive a motor vehicle. Under current DUI law in Pennsylvania, the mere presence of illegal drugs in your bloodstream is enough for a conviction.
A controlled substance is any prescribed drug, non-prescribed drug (marijuana, cocaine, meth, ecstasy) or unauthorized prescription narcotic (Oxycontin, Vicodin). Even if you have not used these drugs on the same day as your arrest, if a trace amount turns up in a blood sample you can be charged with driving under the influence.
Regardless of whether you are actually impaired, drug-related DUI is charged as if you had the highest level of alcohol intoxication (BAC of .16). These means you will face the harshest penalties for conviction:
- A first offense of drug-related DUI carries minimum jail time and 12-month license suspension.
- If you have two or more DUI prior convictions (alcohol or drugs), you face at least a year in state prison and other severe consequences.
- If an officer finds drugs in your car, purse or pocket during your traffic stop, you may also face a drug arrest for possession.
Charging a driver with Driving Under the Influence of drugs can be a complicated situation because some drugs, unlike alcohol, can stay in a person’s system for a prolonged amount of time. Tests may show positive levels of drugs in a driver’s system while the effects of those drugs have long worn off. For example, marijuana can stay in a person’s system for up to a few weeks after using or ingesting the drug. Other drugs such as cocaine, flush out of the system faster but are still detectable for a few days. Police officers must use their judgment to decide whether they believe the driver is incapable of operating a vehicle based on the driver’s behavior, speech, alertness and a other factors in order to request a drug test.
A driver can also be charged with D.U.I. if under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs to a degree which impairs the individual’s ability to safely drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.
Just because a driver is prescribed a medication or drug does not mean it is legal for them to operate a vehicle while under the influence of the drug. A variety of pain killers, for example, are legal but can cause serious impairment or side effects, leading to a driving under the influence offense. Like illegal drugs, officers make the final decision based on how a driver is behaving and their physical condition. If you are under the influence of medication, even if legally proscribed by a doctor, you may be convicted of a D.U.I.
Contact A Defense Lawyer
A DUI with drugs can be more serious than an alcohol-related DUI. If you’ve been charged with DUI with drugs, you need to obtain representation from an experienced defense lawyer who knows Pennsylvania’s law surrounding drugs. For a free telephone consultation to discuss your case please call our office.