What should I do if I being investigated for DUI because of prescriptions or drugs?
You’re heading out to run some errands. About half an hour before you hopped in the car you took your prescribed pain medication. You’ve been taking it for a while and typically don’t have any problems with it making you sleepy or distracted. You’ve driven just fine in the past. After a quick stop at the grocery store, you head towards the mall. Next thing you know, the police officer behind you has turned his lights on, and you’re being pulled over. “What’s the problem, officer?” He replies, “You were swerving in and out of your lane and ran the stop sign back there.”
In total disbelief, you tell him, “There was a stop sign? I don’t remember seeing one. And I certainly don’t remember swerving.” And now it begins: “Would you mind stepping out of the vehicle? I believe you’re impaired, and I would like you to perform some field sobriety exercises.” What do you do now?
Field sobriety exercises (FSTs) include the “walk the line” exercise, the “one-legged stand” exercise, and the “finger-to-nose” exercise, among others. It’s important to know that you don’t have to do them. Unlike a breath or urine test, you do not have a legal obligation to do FSTs. But you’re telling yourself, “What’s going to happen if I refuse them? Won’t that make things worse?” Having done this for years, I would bet good money that the officer is going to say something along the lines of “If you don’t do them, I’m going to have to make my arrest decision based on what I have already seen, and right now I think you’re under the influence….”
Think about what the officer just said: I already think you are guilty, which means I already think I need to arrest you. This means that the odds of you talking your way out of this, or convincing him to change his mind by performing FSTs, are pretty slim. In my experience, FSTs are where the government gets most of its evidence that you are guilty of DUI. If you watch any DUI trial, most of the trial centers on the FSTs – it is the government’s treasure trove of evidence. Understand that I’m not telling you never to do the exercises. I want you to understand two basic things: (1) the police officer has probably already made up his mind, and (2) FSTs will be used against you by the government at trial.
So let’s assume that during this interaction, the officer asks you if you’ve taken any medications that might be causing impairment. What should you say? To prove a DUI case involving a chemical or controlled substance, the government must identify the exact substances causing your impairment. This means that to prove their case against you, they need some evidence of what you took. If you tell the officer that you took your Lortab or Percocet before driving, the government now has evidence of exactly what controlled substance is affecting you. If your answer to the police officer’s question isn’t “nothing, because I’m not impaired,” you may want to consider using your right to remain silent (see my blog post on the issue).
The traffic stop didn’t go your way, and now you are in jail. If there is no suspicion of alcohol at play, then the officer will ask you to provide a urine sample so they can test it for chemical or controlled substances. Just like a breath test, when you get your Florida driver’s license, you agree to provide a urine sample if there is a legal reason to ask for it. This is also known as “implied consent.” If you decide not to provide a urine sample, you need to know that your driver’s license will be suspended for 12 months if you have never refused a test before or 18 months if you have previously refused. Also, if you have refused before, this time, it will be a new misdemeanor crime. Ultimately, what you choose to do will involve balancing between losing your license or giving the government the best evidence to convict you for a DUI involving chemical or controlled substances.
These are just a few things to consider when dealing with a DUI and prescription medications. If you have more questions, contact me, and we’ll discuss them in detail.