taking prescription medicine before driving a car

Florida DUI Attorney Explains DUIs Involving Prescription Medicine

DUIs involving alcohol are often referred to as drunk driving, but DUI charges are not limited to situations involving alcohol. Many prescription medications impair your ability to drive. If you are caught operating a vehicle in Florida while impaired by such a substance, you can be charged with DUI. If this happens, it’s very important to seek legal assistance right away, as you’ll have to act quickly to try to protect your right to drive. The experienced DUI lawyers at Flaherty & Merrifield are here to help you understand what needs to be done immediately after arrest and to provide guidance and assistance throughout your case.

Driving While Impaired by Prescription Medication in Florida

The fact that you are taking medication that a doctor has prescribed to you does not necessarily mean that you can legally drive a vehicle while you are taking it. Florida law 316.193 makes it clear that you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) if you are caught driving a vehicle while you are impaired by the effects of a substance - including prescription medication - that impairs your normal faculties.

Common Controlled Substances and Side Effects

Not all prescription medications interfere with your normal faculties when you are taking them, but many are controlled substances that have impairing side effects, such as drowsiness, reduced coordination, and impaired judgment. Commonly prescribed medications that could lead to DUI charges in Florida include:

  • Oxycontin
  • Xanax
  • Valium

Florida law (statute 893.03) specifies a long list of controlled substances. The best way for you to know that you are taking a controlled substance is to check the label on the prescription medication and review its side effects. It is up to you to know that you are taking a controlled substance and what you are forbidden to do under Florida law. Not knowing is not a defense to DUI charges because you can commit a DUI without having specific intent to do so.

Without a Prescription, Drug Charges May Also Apply

If you are caught driving a vehicle in Florida while impaired by prescription medication – even if a doctor prescribed it for you to take – you can be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and potentially convicted of that crime. But what if you took a controlled substance without a doctor’s prescription? In that case, you could face drug charges in addition to DUI.

For example, you can be charged with DUI for operating a vehicle while impaired by marijuana that you have been prescribed and are taking for medicinal purposes. If you do not have a prescription for marijuana, then you could also be charged with possession of a controlled substance in addition to DUI charges.

Determining Prescription-Related Impairment

Just because you have a prescription for a certain medication does not mean that you are automatically under its influence when you drive. Unlike breathalyzer tests used when drunk driving is suspected, it is much more challenging to measure whether a person is actually impaired by a prescription medication at a particular point in time.

In situations where impairment due to prescription medication or another controlled substance (other than alcohol) is suspected, law enforcement may need to obtain a blood test that could detect how much of the substance was present in your system at the time you were stopped. Before doing a blood test, they must obtain a search warrant based on probable cause.

Potential Defenses for DUI Charges Involving Prescription Medicine

Hiring an experienced Florida DUI attorney as soon as possible after being arrested on suspicion of driving while impaired by prescription medicine can help you protect your rights and avoid making mistakes that could hurt your defense.

A knowledgeable DUI attorney will review the facts of your situation and determine an appropriate defense to try to prove that you did not break the law or that there was not a valid basis to charge you with DUI. They may seek to get the charge reduced or dismissed or may ask to suppress key evidence. Examples of potential defenses for a DUI based on impairment by a prescription drug include:

  • You were not impaired by the medication you were taking
  • Officers lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop you in the first place
  • Police did not have probable cause to obtain a warrant for a blood test
  • The actual blood test was not performed properly
  • Evidence was not properly stored
  • Law enforcement questioned you after you asserted that you wanted a lawyer

Just having a medical reason to take the medication does not absolve you of legal responsibility for DUI. The prosecution would argue that you should have stayed off the road when taking these controlled substances, which is consistent with  Florida law.

Seek Help from an Experienced DUI Attorney

There are a number of reasons why it may not be in your best interest to try to handle a DUI charge without a lawyer. To give yourself the best chance of mounting a strong legal defense against the charges against you, it is best to contact a lawyer with a proven record of results in DUI cases as soon as possible after you have been arrested.

Tim Flaherty
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Florida Criminal Defense Attorney