The abuse of prescription medications in Texas has increased significantly. Often, addiction to these drugs arises due to the effects that come after a genuine medical use. Prescription drug addicts will continue to use them even after the medical need ends. You can be arrested if you operate a vehicle while intoxicated with prescription drugs.
At a traffic stop, the law enforcement officer will administer different tests to check your level of impairment before arresting you. After the arrest, a blood test is used to confirm the amount of drugs in your blood. A conviction for DWI with prescription medications attracts severe legal consequences, including jail time and fines. Additionally, your driver’s license can be suspended.
If you or a loved one faces criminal charges for DWI with prescription medications, you will require the guidance of a skilled attorney. Your lawyer will help you investigate your charges and build a strong defense against them.
An Overview of DWI with Prescription Medications in Texas
It is not illegal to operate your vehicle if you are on prescription medication. However, you must:
- Have a prescription. For all controlled substances in Texas, you must have a prescription from a physician.
- You do not meet the definition of intoxication. Texas defines intoxication as the lack of physical or mental ability to operate a vehicle safely.
Alcohol, illegal narcotics, and prescription medications may cause intoxication. Therefore, if an officer believes you cannot operate a vehicle safely, they could arrest you and begin DWI investigations. Common prescription medications that can impair your driving abilities include:
- Pain relievers. A doctor may prescribe you some pain relievers if you experience severe pain from a medical condition or an injury. These medications can cause side effects like dizziness and sleepiness, which affect your driving behavior.
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants can have varying effects on people. Sometimes, these drugs cause insomnia, which could result in tiredness.
- Antihistamines. Some antihistamines cause drowsiness and blurred vision, which is dangerous when operating a motor vehicle.
- Anti-anxiety medications. Most hypertensive drugs, like Xanax and Valium, have tranquilizing effects that could impair your judgment on the road.
The DRE Protocol for Testing DWI with Prescription Medications
For most individuals, the thought of a "drunk driver" means a person who is intoxicated by alcohol or illegal narcotics. However, many substances can impair your driving behavior, including prescription medications. Determining intoxication with other substances other than alcohol is challenging. This is because most officers are only trained to detect and test alcohol use.
For alcohol intoxication, the traffic officers will use a breathalyzer test to determine your BAC. However, prescription medications cannot be detected using the breath test. Instead, law enforcement officers will use the DRE test to determine the concentration of prescription medications in your blood.
The DRE test has the following steps:
The Breath Test
When law enforcement officers stop your vehicle for suspected DWI, they perform a breath test first. This test requires you to breathe into a handheld device that determines the level of alcohol in your blood. In Texas, the legal limit for operating a vehicle is 0.08%.
The breath test is common because the signs of intoxication may be similar for alcohol, prescription medications, and illegal narcotics. Some of the signs that could create a probable cause for a DWI stop in Texas include:
- Driving at a dangerous speed.
- Violating traffic rules.
- Reckless driving.
After stopping your vehicle, the officers will look out for the following signs of intoxication before moving forward with the DWI investigations:
- Alcohol odor in your vehicle.
- Presence of drug or alcohol paraphernalia in your vehicle.
- Unusual physical behaviors like slurred speech, difficulty staying awake, confusion, and impaired motor skills.
- Your attitude and interaction with police officers.
If your signs of intoxication are not related to the use of alcohol, you will be sent for a DRE evaluation.
Interview with the Arresting Officer
When the Drug Recognition Expert arrives, the arresting officer must brief them on the circumstances of your arrest. This will include the probable cause for the stop, your appearance, and your behavior throughout your interaction with the officer.
This step of the DRE evaluation involves taking your pulse and making some observations. The DRE will question you about the food, drugs, or alcohol you may have ingested before driving the vehicle. The main aim of this exercise is to collect incriminating statements and observe your conduct.
A pulse is also taken to detect medical complications or potential drug use. If you have a medical condition, the DRE will seek medical care. However, if drugs intoxicate you, the DRE evaluation will continue.
After taking the first pulse, the investigation continues with an eye examination. The eye examination will include several tests, such as the horizontal gaze test.
Divided Attention Psychophysical Test
The DRE will perform a psychophysical test commonly known as the field sobriety test. This helps to determine the motor skills that have been affected by intoxication. A common test used to check your balance is the one-leg stand.
Taking Vital Signs and a Second Pulse
In the sixth step, the DRE will take your vital signs and a second pulse. Vital signs may be elevated or lowered by the use of prescription medications.
Dark Room Examination
The dark room examination involves checking the size of your pupils using three different lighting conditions. Some prescription medications can cause your pupils to dilate or contract.
Muscle Tone Examination
The DRE will check your muscle tone since some substances can cause the muscle to become rigid.
Check for Injection Sites and Pulse
The DRE checks your skin for any injection sites and takes a third pulse for evidence of recent drug use.
Analysis of the Evaluator’s Opinion
After considering all the evaluations, the DRE will conclude what they think about your state.
After all the evaluations, the DRE may request a blood, urine, or blood test for toxicology analysis. This could help determine the type of drug in your system and its concentration.
The burden of Proof for DWI with Prescription Medications
For a charge of DWI with prescription medications to stick, it only needs the knowledge of a law enforcement officer that you took the medications before operating a vehicle. The following factors could support the prosecution's case against you:
- Confirmation of intoxication. During the DRE evaluation, you may be asked about the drugs and food you consumed before driving. If you disclose that you are on prescription medications, that information can be used against you in a DWI case.
- The seriousness of the reasons for a DUI stop. There are several reasons why a traffic officer may choose to pull over your vehicle and investigate DWI. Therefore, when proving your liability for DWI, the prosecution will consider the severity of these reasons.
- Your conduct at the traffic stop. Another piece of evidence that the prosecutor could rely on when prosecuting your DWI case is your conduct at the DUI stop. Your appearance and speech may have indicated an impairment.
Penalties for DWI with Prescription Medications in Texas
You can operate a vehicle when you are on a prescription for medication. However, you must ensure that the medications do not affect your ability to operate a vehicle safely. If you show signs of intoxication, you can be arrested.
The punishment for DWI with prescription drugs varies depending on your criminal record. A conviction for driving while intoxicated with prescription medications results in the following punishment:
- A jail sentence of 180 days and a $2,000 fine. This punishment is imposed if you are a first-time offender.
- A jail sentence of one year for a second DWI.
- A jail sentence of ten years if you commit a third DWI offense.
In addition to jail time and fines, the court may impose the following punishments:
- Probation. In Texas, probation may be an alternative to spending time in jail. Therefore, if you receive a probation sentence, you will serve a part of your jail sentence on community service.
- Counseling and rehab. Most prescription medications are issued by a physician for a medical condition. However, some people may fall into addiction to the constant use of these medications. Therefore, the court may order that you undergo drug counseling.
- Ignition Interlock Device installation. For most DUI convictions, the court will order you to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle. This helps monitor your level of intoxication before operating the vehicle.
Another serious consequence of a DWI conviction in Texas is a permanent criminal record. A conviction will enter your record if you are found guilty of DWI with prescription medications. Having this conviction on your record can keep you from securing a good job, receiving student loans, or entering a good apartment.
Sometimes, you could be arrested and charged with DWI for admitting to taking prescription medications even when you are not impaired. Therefore, you must be careful about the information you divulge while interacting with a traffic officer.
Legal Defense Against Charges for DWI with Prescription Medications
A conviction for DWI with prescription medications has serious and life-changing consequences. Therefore, you must be aggressive to fight the charges and secure a favorable outcome. Common legal defenses you can use in your case include:
Lack of Probable Cause for Arrest
Police officers must always have probable cause to stop your vehicle and arrest you for suspected DWI in Texas. Traffic officers arrive at a probable cause by performing a thorough observation, asking you a few questions, and performing a field sobriety test.
If the officers lacked probable cause for arrest, you could petition the court to eliminate the evidence collected from the illegal arrest from your case.
Faulty Blood Test
After the DRE test, you must undergo a blood test. This helps to determine the type and concentration of drugs in your body. Disputing the accuracy of the blood test is one of the ways through which you can fight your DWI charge.
Even when you are suspected of driving while intoxicated, you have some constitutional rights that law enforcement officers must respect. Common forms of police misconduct include:
- Searching your vehicle without a warrant.
- Coercing you into confessing to a crime you did not commit.
If you can prove that you are a victim of police misconduct, you will avoid a DWI conviction.
Frequently Asked Questions on the Prosecution of DWI with Prescription Drugs in Texas
The moments following an arrest for DWI can be confusing. The following are frequently asked questions on the arrest and prosecution of DWI prescription drugs in Texas:
What happens when police officers lack probable cause for a DWI stop?
For DWI cases involving alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medications, the case starts at the DUI stop. In Texas, law enforcement officers must have probable cause before stopping your vehicle. The probable cause may be derived through your driving conduct and furthered by your nature during interaction with the officers.
Stopping your vehicle for DWI without probable cause violates your constitutional rights. If law enforcement officers violate your rights during their DWI investigations, the case against you may be destroyed. In this case, your DWI attorney can petition the court to eliminate the evidence collected at this point from your case.
This makes it difficult for the prosecution to prove that you operated a vehicle while intoxicated with prescription medications. Sometimes, the prosecution may be forced to drop the charges because of insufficient evidence.
Is having a valid prescription a viable defense for DWI with prescription drugs?
Although you have the right to take medications prescribed by a doctor, you cannot legally operate a vehicle while having those medications in your system. Therefore, you cannot argue that you had a valid prescription in your DWI case.
Is the blood test during a DWI investigation mandatory?
Unlike DWI with alcohol, where your intoxication can be determined using a breathalyzer test, the blood test is the only way to check the concentration of prescription medications in your system. Therefore, the blood test results are important evidence in the case.
Although no one will force you to take the blood test, refusing the test can result in serious consequences, including additional penalties and the suspension of your driver’s license. In addition, law enforcement officers can apply for a warrant to take the blood test.
What Can I Do to Avoid DWI with Prescription Drugs?
Driving under the influence of prescription drugs is a serious offense in Texas. Even when you are not convicted, the arrest and charge can have life-changing consequences for you. The arrest will appear on your criminal record and can ruin your reputation.
Taking prescription medications may be inevitable when you have a threatening medical condition. Some of the things you can do to avoid DWI with prescription medications include:
- Discuss the side effects of your prescription. When your doctor prescribes medication for a disease condition, you should request that they explain the side effects of the drugs. This helps you ensure you do not drive a vehicle after taking drugs, impairing your judgment.
- Inform your doctor about other prescriptions. If you are already taking prescription drugs, you should inform your doctor. This allows the doctor to determine the interactions between these drugs.
- Take drugs for a few days to determine their effect on your body. If you are not sure of the type of effects that a particular drug will have on your body functions, you should wait a few days before operating your vehicle.
- Take your drugs according to the prescription. Operating a vehicle while you are taking your prescription medications is not illegal. The arrest arises when these medications impair your driving behavior. You can avoid unforeseen side effects if you take your medications according to your prescription.
- Change your medications. If your livelihood relies on driving a vehicle, you should ensure that the prescriptions do not affect your motor skills. Therefore, you must inform your doctor before going home with the prescription medications.
Find a Competent DWI Attorney Near Me
Most people believe you cannot be arrested or found guilty of DWI if you have a drug prescription. If a traffic officer stops your vehicle for reckless driving or failure to follow traffic rules, they could begin investigations using the field sobriety tests and the DRE test. They can also determine if your driving conduct was impaired by using prescription medications.
An arrest and prosecution for driving under the influence of prescription medications can be a terrifying experience. The situation could be difficult to accept for individuals with a valid drug prescription. Fortunately, not all DWI arrests will result in a conviction. You can challenge the accuracy of the chemical test results, among other defenses, to fight your charges.
Battling DWI charges for prescription drugs in Houston, TX, can be challenging, especially for a first-time offender. Therefore, hiring a skilled DUI lawyer to represent you is important. At Fort Worth DWI Defense Lawyer, we devote our time and resources to helping you secure a favorable outcome in your case. Call us at 817-470-2128 to discuss your case details.