Can Legal Medications Result in a DUI?
Driving under the influence of prescription medications can be as deadly for drivers as driving under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol. Consequently, even if the doctor prescribed your medication, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs could potentially lead to a DUI.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Roadside Survey, more than 22 percent of drivers tested positive for illegal, over-the-counter or prescription drugs. It can be difficult to assess just how prescription medications affect an individual, since effects of drugs vary widely, depending on the medication, how it was taken and the person taking it. Some drugs are depressants and dull alertness and slow reaction time, while others, like stimulants, can encourage taking risks and impair ability to make judgments. When prescription drugs are mixed or doses are exceeded, these effects are multiplied, and the risk of getting a DUI or causing a crash increases sharply.
If you or a loved one has been accused of driving under the influence (DUI) due to taking legal medications in Illinois, it’s a serious offense that you should not attempt to fight on your own. As a first-time offender, you may face the suspension of your license, fines and even a jail sentence. If you have had previous DUIs, you may be charged with felony DUI. There are other costs as well — your insurance premiums will rise, your family will face embarrassment, and it may affect your career. As a result, it makes sense to seek legal assistance from an effective DUI defense attorney who is a strong advocate in the courtroom to fight for your rights and get you the best outcome possible.
The seasoned Illinois prescription drug DUI defense attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd., offer a free consultation. Take the first step in protecting your rights by calling or contacting us online to examine your individual situation and determine the best way to handle your case and defend your freedom.
What Drugs Cause Problems?
The prescription drugs that most often are involved with DUI arrests fall in the following categories:
- Painkillers – includes opioid medications such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Narco, and Lortab.
- Anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs, such as Xanax, Lexapro, Zoloft and Paxil.
- Sleep medications, such as Ambien, Sonata and Lunesca.
All these drugs can cause a lack of mental clarity, impaired reflexes and perception, and drowsiness that can interfere with driving safely and contribute to crashes and DUIs.
Illinois Law on Prescribed Medications
In Illinois, drugged driving falls under 625 ILCS 5/11-501, the same statute as other DUI offenses. You can get a DUI by driving under the influence of alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or any intoxicating compound.
Illinois law has a strict zero-tolerance policy for those driving with illegal drugs or an illegal blood alcohol level in their system. If a police officer makes a traffic stop and has a reasonable suspicion that any prohibited drug has been ingested before you took control of a vehicle, the officer can arrest you. Under zero tolerance, if a blood or a urine test shows you have even trace amounts of a drug in your system, you could be found guilty, even if you are not “high” or under the influence of that drug. If you refuse to take a drug or alcohol test, this can be used as evidence against you in a DUI trial.
However, prescription drugs, even those classified as controlled substances, are treated differently than other substances. This is because it is legal to drive with a lawfully prescribed drug in your system — if you are not impaired and are not driving unsafely.
But if you are found to be impaired or driving unsafely, you could be found guilty of a DUI even if you have a valid prescription. You can also be found guilty if you have not been lawfully prescribed the drug. Defendants have the burden to produce a legitimate prescription or to show proof that they are entitled to consume that medication. The prosecutor must prove both impairment and unsafe driving.
What are Possible Penalties?
In Illinois, a DUI is a class A misdemeanor, and penalties for being convicted include the possibility of court supervision, a suspended license, fines of up to $2,500, and a maximum punishment of one year in jail. A first-time offender faces a mandatory suspension of their driver’s license.
Repeat offenders may almost certainly face jail time and fines and will also have driving privileges limited, if not revoked. A DUI may become a felony punishable by more than a year in jail if you have past traffic convictions or if you were driving without a valid driver’s license. A Class 4 felony conviction may result in imprisonment of 1-3 years and fines of up to $25,000. If there have been injuries or deaths, the prison time increases –an aggravated DUI with multiple deaths is a class X felony, for which you could be imprisoned for 6-30 years and receive fines of up to $25,000.
Defending a DUI in Illinois
It is more difficult to convict a person of a DUI when legally prescribed medications are involved than it is when the drugs are illegal. For illegal drugs, the state only needs to prove that a person operated a motor vehicle while under the influence. For prescription drugs, prosecutors must prove the person was operating a motor vehicle under the influence of prescription drugs and also that these drugs made the person incapable of driving safely.
In your defense, you can attempt to prove that you did not know the medication would impair driving, but this may not work if the medication had a warning label. Also, merely having a prescription for medication is not an absolute defense to driving under the influence. In any case, if you have been accused of any prescription-related DUI, it’s always best to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Put Your Trust In Us — Contact Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. for a Free Consultation.
The seasoned and compassionate Illinois DUI attorneys at Wolfe & Stec, Ltd. know the courts and the system and that there are aspects of DUI charges that may lead to a dismissal or result in a lesser offense or penalty.
We are aggressive litigators and will work with you to fully understand the facts surrounding your case and come up with the best defense possible to fight for your rights and freedom. We offer a free consultation, so if you have been charged with any type of DUI offense, don’t delay. Contact us today online or call our offices.