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Can I Be Convicted of a DUI Based on Prescription Medicine?

Posted on October 22nd, 2017

In Pennsylvania, police can arrest a driver for driving under the influence (DUI) if the person’s blood alcohol content shows an 0.08% or higher or if the driver shows signs of drug intoxication. There is no set limit to how intoxicated an individual must be on drugs to qualify as a “DUI” driver. It is largely up to the discretion of the arresting officer and judge. The drug does not have to be illegal to fail a DUI test. Prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs pose just as much a risk of intoxication as many illegal ones. Here’s what you need to know about taking legal drugs and driving in West Chester.

Impaired Driving Offenses in Pennsylvania

The state of Pennsylvania punishes any type of impaired or dangerous driving, regardless of the reason. A driver’s erratic behaviors on the road such as weaving, speeding, or ignoring street signs can lead to a traffic stop and subsequent DUI investigation. During this investigation, the police may order breath or chemical tests to ascertain whether the driver has drugs or alcohol in his/her system. The law does not differentiate between legal and illegal drugs when it comes to issuing DUIs.

What counts as “impaired driving” is up to the police officer and case judge. Proof of impairment may come in the form of law enforcement testimony or police cam footage of the driver’s field sobriety test. If the prescription medication had side effects or drug interactions that sparked dangerous reactions such as sleepiness or delirium, the police may deem it enough to impair the driver and make him/her unable to safely control the vehicle. Intent does not matter with DUI charges. Whether or not the driver knew of the potential effects of the drug, the courts could convict him/her of driving under the influence in Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, a person can still face a DUI conviction even if the intoxication was accidental. Many patients may not realize that certain prescriptions run risks such as drowsiness or confusion. Driving under the influence in these cases is purely unintentional – yet this does not safeguard the driver from a personal injury lawsuit or criminal DUI charge. It is up to the driver to read warning labels on medications, reasonably foresee risks, and react in a way that does not risk the safety of others. Failure to do so, resulting in an accident, may be legal negligence.

Criminal DUI Charge vs. Civil DUI Charge

The only upside to a DUI charge involving legally obtain prescription medications, is that you will not face charges for possessing or consumption of illicit substances. Drivers guilty of DUI from illegal drugs may face additional criminal charges in Pennsylvania for possession. Still, it is against the law to drive under the influence of a legal drug that makes it too dangerous to drive. The penalties for DUI in Pennsylvania are the same whether the drugs were legal or illegal.

The legality of the substance will also not affect the outcome of a civil case involving the driver. The injured party can argue the offender’s liability for the crash based only on the fact that he/she received a DUI conviction. The plaintiff does not need to prove the drugs were illegal – only that they impaired the driver enough to make him/her a danger to others. When facing criminal and civil charges for a DUI in Pennsylvania due to legal prescription medications, speak to an experienced West Chester defense attorney.