At first glance, getting a DWI for prescription drugs might not make sense. For this reason, many choose to consult a Dallas DWI attorney for prescription drug charges. However, the reason you may get a DWI for driving under the influence of prescription drugs isn’t that different from why you may receive an alcohol-related DWI. Think of it this way: abusing alcohol and/or illegal drugs + getting behind the wheel of a car = being arrested for driving while intoxicated.
Of course, the law is rarely as simple as the above equation. For one, you don’t always have to knowingly make an illegal decision in order to get charged with a DWI. And if you aren’t careful, you can get a DWI for driving prescription drugs even if they are legally prescribed to you. Over-the-counter medications can also get you arrested.
Don’t let confusion and misinformation land you behind bars — the DWI costs in Texas are high, to say the least. Get the facts on prescription drug DWI, which drugs not to take when you know you’ll need to drive, and the flawed DWI testing methods you could be up against next time you get behind the wheel.
DWI charges include more than just drinking and driving in Texas. DWI is broadly defined as operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated as a direct result of alcohol consumption or drug use, legal or otherwise.
Contrary to popular belief, a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 is not the only standard for measuring a DWI. Police have the right to detain and arrest you if they have a strong reason to believe that anything is impairing your ability to safely operate a vehicle, even if your BAC comes back as 0.00.
Odds are, law enforcement won’t let you get away from a DWI misdemeanor or felony charges easily. If a police officer reasonably suspects that you’re unfit to drive, they can legally arrest you on suspicion of DWI or even charge you with possession of a dangerous drug in Texas.
In Texas, DWI on prescription drugs and DWI from alcohol are technically the same the crime. As long as no one gets hurt and you aren’t a repeat offender, driving under the influence of drugs is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by no more than 3-180 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $2,000.
That said, we’re often asked, “is driving under the influence of drugs a felony?” and for good reason. If someone died or was injured as a result of the accident, your prescription drug DWI could be upgraded to a 3rd or 2nd degree felony, both punishable by 2-10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000. (Read more about involuntary manslaughter if you think this may be related to your case.)
Driving under the influence of prescription drugs is a crime in the State of Texas, regardless of whether you were legally prescribed the drug or not. If you were not legally prescribed the drug you have with you, you could face drug possession charges in addition to the DWI.
Police can gain probable cause for prescription drug DWI using many of the same methods used to determine alcohol intoxication, including Texas field sobriety tests, behavior assessment, and blood analysis.
A DWI blood test for drugs can’t tell police exactly what drug you’ve taken, but it can identify the drug class, how much is in your system, and an approximation of how recently you took the drug. For instance, if you took hydrocodone or a similar medication for pain, your blood work may come back positive for opiates.
Both field sobriety tests and blood analyses leave room for error and can be fought in court. On the other hand, roadside confessions don’t provide nearly as much wiggle room. Do not openly confess to being on any medication or to driving under the influence of prescription drugs.
Even if you don’t think something like your anti-anxiety medication is affecting your driving, the police can use that as probable cause to arrest you on suspicion of DWI. Be respectful, obey commands, and say as little as possible until you can speak to a lawyer.
An astute reader will now ask, “what prescription drugs can you not drive on?” Unfortunately, there aren’t many hard-and-fast rules about which drugs will and won’t land you with a DWI charge. Since all bodies are different, certain drugs can have more or less pronounced effects depending on your body chemistry.
One good rule of thumb, however, is to avoid driving on any medication linked to drowsiness, including Xanax, Hydrocodone, Ambien, and any other opiate or sedative.
Another good (and perhaps obvious) rule of thumb is to not drive while taking your prescription medication if the prescription says not to drive while using the medication. In the wrong circumstances, even having that medication in your system could land you a prescription drug DWI.
Finally, certain over-the-counter medications such as Benadryl, Tylenol PM, and Nyquil can also render you unable to drive and can earn you a DWI even though they aren’t considered controlled substances.
Between flawed testing methods, complicated time-of-driving laws, and bad police work, it’s best to let a Texas DWI expert guide you through the subtleties and variables of a prescription drug DWI charge. If you or a loved one were arrested on suspicion of prescription drug DWI, don’t let just anyone handle your case.
With decades of experience as both a criminal prosecutor and a defense attorney, Doug Wilder knows the ins and outs of DWI defense and can use his expertise to defend your rights in court. Don’t delay — schedule a free consultation with the The Wilder Firm today.