Prescription Drugs and DUI: Challenges to Prosecution of Suspects
Drugged driving cases involving prescription drugs are often dependent on an officer's subjective assessment of the driver's intoxication.
Police officers often initiate traffic stops for minor traffic violations in order to speak with the driver of the vehicle and look for signs of intoxication.
If an officer detects an odor of alcohol when interviewing the driver, field sobriety and breathalyzer tests are likely forthcoming. Field sobriety tests are often administered incorrectly and the results can be skewed by an officer's preconceived notions about a driver's sobriety. In most cases, the field sobriety tests create further suspicion and the driver is taken to the police station for blood testing or urinalysis.
What if an officer suspects a driver of driving under the influence of prescription drugs? Objective indications of drug intoxication are less apparent than some external suggestions of drunkenness. Police and highway patrol do not have well-developed methods for testing a person for Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Oxycodone, Percocet or other opiates. Quantifying the amount of a substance is ultimately crucial to providing legal proof that the suspect was operating an automobile while in an impaired state.
As in all criminal matters, OVI, DUI and DWI prosecutors must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. An objective measure of a driver's blood-alcohol content can be held up against the statutory threshold of intoxication (in Ohio, that means .08 percent or above). Other drugs such as marijuana, heroin and cocaine are subject to assessment of metabolites and other quantifiable measures. But so-called drugged driving cases involving prescription drugs are often more dependent on an officer's subjective observations of the driver's condition.
An attorney's job in any intoxicated driving case is to protect the client by holding the prosecution to their burden of proof. One important strategy is to closely review the officer's report of field sobriety test administration and look for indications that the tests were improperly conducted or subject to distractions. Many times, the drugs a driver is accused of abusing were legally prescribed by a physician and were taken for legitimate ailments. Even in cases where the prosecution has objective evidence of a driver's intake of a prescription drug, an attorney may be able to convince the court that a driver's ability was not seriously affected.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rittgers & Rittgers
Rittgers & Rittgers drunk driving defense attorneys are at the forefront of the field - handling allegations of OVI, DUI and DWI. Not only do we understand the laws governing OVI, we have helped to shape these laws. Several of our cases before the Supreme Court of Ohio have led to precedent affecting OVI defense.
Attorney Charles Rittgers is a founding member of the National DUI College, trained in field sobriety testing and an experienced litigator. The firm of Rittgers & Rittgers has a strong history of success in OVI cases. Our attorneys have handled many recent cases affecting OVI law before the Ohio Supreme Court and are aware of the many changes in OVI law and viable legal strategies for OVI cases.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.