Prescription drug DUI arrests are a growing trend in California and all over the country. In addition to an increase in prescription drug abuse, doctors are prescribing patients more and more drugs every year. In light of this new trend, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been looking into the legality of some common prescription drug DUI defenses.
In a document published by the NHTSA, several prescription drug defenses are examined as well as if they have any merit.
The suspect was using over-the- counter or lawfully prescribed drugs: The NHTSA explains that this is not a valid defense because it only explains why the suspect was intoxicated, and that does not matter to the court. California DUI law only requires a person to be impaired; no intent needs to be proven.
The suspect did not know the medication would cause impairment: This could only be a valid defense if a reasonable excuse was given for not knowing a drug would cause impairment. For example, not reading the side effects card is not good enough to convince a jury, but a drug that has no known side effects or a doctor explicitly telling a suspect that they could drive while taking the drug could be defenses.
The levels of the drug consumed were too small to cause impairment: Though legally this is not a valid defense, this may be a good defense to convince jurors of reasonable doubt because many people feel that if a drug is not strong enough to treat symptoms it might not be strong enough to cause impairment. Under California law, a driver can be considered impaired with even a small amount of drug in their system.
The suspect was unconscious or cannot remember driving: This is a common defense for Ambien users because one of the known side effects is unconscious actions like sleep driving and eating. This does not mean that Ambien DUI suspects can avoid charges, however. An attorney will need to prove that their clients really had no memory of the event and no control over their actions.