Drugged Driving Charges

In North Carolina law, you can be charged with DWI for driving while taking any substance that is considered able to impair your ability to drive. This not only applies to illegal use of a controlled substance but also medication you were legally prescribed by your doctor and had taken in the prescribed dosage, as well as some over-the counter medication. For illegal drugs, DWI charges would incur additional drug charges along with harsher potential DWI sentencing. DWI penalties for use of legal drugs follow the same structure as those for alcohol.

prescription drugs that may cause drugged driving, arranged in a question mark symbol

Causes of Drugged Driving

Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs that can cause impaired driving include:

  • Cough, Cold and Allergy Medication: Many over-the-counter and prescription cough and allergy medications including Nyquil, Benadryl and Delsym, contain antihistamines which can cause drowsiness. Additionally, many cough syrups contain some alcohol which can increase your BAC when tested.
  • Pain medicines: typically, prescription pain relievers with opioids cause the most significant impairment, but even simple over the counter pain relievers such as Aspirin and Ibuprofen can cause some impairment. This also includes specialized pain relievers such as Fioricet which include barbiturates to help relax muscles and reduce headaches.
  • Anti-depressants and Anti-anxiety medication: Most of these medications, such as Valium, Ativan, Xanax can significantly impair your ability to drive, both decreasing mental and physical responsiveness.
  • Other Drugs: Many drugs from those that reduce cholesterol or blood pressure to diabetes medication can cause drowsiness in some instances.

While some of the drugs above can increase your BAC, whether due to having some alcohol or other substances, most of them need to be tested for using other methods such as a blood test you would be expected to submit to if arrested. This also means law enforcement does not the same standards for blood-concentration of various drugs as they do for blood alcohol concentration, where a BAC of 0.08 or more will be cause for DWI charges and conviction.

While the lack of standards for blood-concentration make it more difficult for prosecutors to convict you of drugged driving, these charges are not to be taken lightly. Prosecutors need to have evidence that there was the presence of an impairing substance in your blood at the time of driving, and that your performance while driving was poor, but not necessarily that the drugs have caused your poor performance. That is where an experience DWI defense attorney is needed who can effectively deal with these kinds of charges. The attorneys and legal team at Tarlton Polk Law have the experience needed to handle prescription drug-related DWI cases, as well as illegal drug DWI cases such as marijuana-related DWI.

Marijuana DWI

While drugged driving charges for prescription and over-the-counter medicine can come as a surprise to some, it is probably not surprising that use of already illegal impairing substances while driving can lead to a DWI conviction. Marijuana (Cannabis) DWI charges are among the most common charges people can face for DWI of a controlled substance, and the penalties follow the same sentencing structure as other DWI charges, based heavily on surrounding factors (such as prior convictions, damage caused, etc.). Additionally, if law enforcement suspects you are driving under the influence of marijuana, they an attempt to use that as probable cause to search your vehicle and potentially charge you for drug possession as well.

Luckily, Marijuana DWI, like other drugged driving charges, can be quite hard to prove for a variety of reasons. First, there is currently no reliable field sobriety test linked to cannabis use. Blood tests are also unreliable as the impairing compound in cannabis, THC, may not appear in urine or blood for several hours after use, but can be present long after the impairing affects wore off. This means that law enforcement have to prove “appreciable impairment”, which means that they must testify that your impairment was noticeable (e.g. from driving behavior and field sobriety tests) and you clearly showed signs of marijuana use (e.g. smelled of marijuana). Since marijuana DWI charges rely so heavily on law enforcement testimony rather than established scientific tests, it is crucial that you hire an experienced DWI defense attorney who can discredit claims made by law enforcement against you.

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Consequences of Drugged Driving Conviction

If you are facing a conviction for drugged driving, you can face the same penalties applied to alcohol-based DWI cases. DWI sentencing in North Carolina follows a set of sentencing guidelines based on circumstances of the case and prior DWI convictions. The case circumstances are generally categorized as “aggravating”, meaning factors that make it worse (such as causing somebody bodily injury due to DWI) or “mitigating”, meaning factors that make it not as bad (such as not causing any damage to people or property due to impairment). For details on sentencing structure in DWI, check out our main DWI page.

There are a few areas in which drugged driving sentencing and consequences can differ from an alcohol-based DWI conviction, including:

  • Judges will not use BAC level as an aggravating or mitigating factor in sentencing determination, and there is no equivalent metric to measure impairment due to other drugs. They must rely on law enforcement and possibly witness testimony of your driving behavior as well as damage caused.
  • In cases where there was possession and consumption of a controlled substance or prescription drug obtained fraudulently, you could face investigation into potential drug crimes.
  • Where DWI sentencing can include voluntary participation in drug or alcohol abuse therapy (typically to include as a mitigating factor in the judge’s sentence), this will likely not apply to impairing drugs taken as prescribed at the rightful dosage. Impairment due to lawfully prescribed drugs taken for an existing medical condition at prescribed dosage is typically treated as a mitigating factor in DWI sentencing.

Why Choose Tarlton | Polk?

With these serious penalties on the line, it’s critical to hire an experienced attorney. The DWI Lawyers at Tarlton Polk Law have extensive training in drunk driving cases. Our team has tried over 500 DWI cases in Wake County District Court, as well as trying numerous jury trials in Superior Court. Brad Polk and Raymond Tarlton learned their criminal trial skills first as prosecutors. Now, they apply these talents to represent defendants facing drunk driving charges. They frequently help clients achieve dismissals and acquittals.

In addition to the knowledge that comes from litigating so many cases, our lawyers have also received extensive training, including:

  • Completion of courses on detecting impaired drivers, presented by North Carolina agencies.
  • Attendance at a 2009 regional DWI course for law enforcement officers and prosecutors. Part of the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
  • Instruction on the same standardized field sobriety tests law enforcement agencies use during their investigations.
  • Work with North Carolina’s Forensic Tests for Alcohol Branch related to the instrumentation used to measure a suspect’s BAC.
  • Individual instruction on the state’s Intox EC/IR II device used to measure BAC. This includes training on the absorption, distribution, and elimination of alcohol in the body. It also covers the scientific principles behind the technology.

Whether you’re facing your first DWI or you are facing serious felony DWI charges, our criminal defense lawyers are the litigators you need on your side. Brad and Raymond need to review your case to provide specific details on your circumstances.

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