Driving under the influence applies to the use of both illegal and legal drugs. Often a person charged with a drug-related DWI does not understand how they can be prosecuted since they have a prescription for whatever substance they were taking. Many people don’t know that it is not the legality of the drug that is being prosecuted in these cases, but rather the effect the drug has on a driver of a motor vehicle that may constitute the basis for a criminal offense. It is illegal in New York for an individual to drive a motor vehicle while he or she is impaired by the usage of a drug. It does not matter whether the drug is legal or illegal, or whether it is used pursuant to a proper and legitimate prescription. The law forbids driving a motor vehicle while impaired by any drug.
The most common types of non-alcoholic substances involved in DWI cases are Oxycotin, Vicodin, and other pain-killers. Prescription drugs can impair a person’s ability to operate a vehicle safely. Many DWI cases in New York also involve prescription drugs such as Ambien and other sleep aids, muscle relaxers, and pain killers. A growing number of people who are suffering from chronic pain take medications during the day; and if they drive they may wind up becoming drowsy and have impaired driving patterns.
If a motorist’s driving ability is impaired by non-alcohol drugs in New York, they can be charged with the misdemeanor of driving while ability impaired by drugs (DWAI Drugs) under New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192(4). When a person is charged with DWAI Drugs, there has to be proof that the motorist had some inability to properly operate his or her vehicle due to the drugs. Many prescriptions come with a warning label that states to be careful when operating heavy machinery (i.e., a car) when taking the medication. The warning label about operating heavy machinery really tells people that the drug can affect their ability to safely drive their car. Just because a person is taking legally prescribed medication in the manner the doctor ordered it to be taken, that is not a defense to a DWAI Drugs charge. If a person takes prescribed medication and get pulled over, and if the police officer believes the medication has affected the normal use of their faculties, they may arrest them for DWAI Drugs.
Common Prescription Drugs and DWI Cases
Hydrocodone is among the most widely prescribed drugs in New York and is known for being highly addictive and dangerous. Hydrocodone belongs to a family of drugs known as opiates or opioids because they are chemically similar to opium. They include morphine, heroin, oxycodone, codeine, methadone and hydromorphone. Opiates block pain but also unleash intense feelings of well-being and can create physical dependence. Opiate-based painkillers like Hydrocodone and Oxycodone are so potent and addictive that they are sometimes referred to as forms of synthetic heroin.
Hydrocodone and Oxycodone are both classified as Schedule II narcotic drugs under Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Schedule II is the highest level of control for legally available drugs. Both Hydrocodone and Oxycodone are common prescription drugs in DWAI Drugs cases because they can slow a driver’s reflexes, impair their thinking and reaction times, and make it difficult for them to drive a car safely. Most prescriptions for Hydrocodone and Oxycodone come with warning labels that caution against operating heavy machinery, such as driving a car, when taking the drugs.
Sleeping pills such as Ambien are also involved in many DWAI Drugs cases. Ambien contains the sleep drug zolpidem and can cause pronounced morning drowsiness. Ambien is involved in DWAI Drugs cases because taking the drug can cause impairment of activities that require alertness, such as driving. Ambien is known to cause a number of side effects that can impair drivers such as dizziness and lightheadedness as well as loss of coordination.
In some DWAI Drugs cases, Ambien is known to cause a condition called “sleep driving.” In these cases, drivers take Ambien before bedtime, go to sleep, unknowingly wake up and later drive a car with no memory of their actions. Recently a number of courts have recognized the “Ambien Sleep Driving Defense” as a type of defense in drug-related DWI cases around the country. Defendants who have been successful in winning their drug-related DWI cases involving sleep-driving after taking Ambien usually based their defense on the fact that they took the drug according to their prescription and therefore did not voluntarily cause their unconsciousness. The Ambien defense relies on the fact that criminal liability for a DWI or DWAI Drugs offense requires a voluntary act by the defendant. The Ambien defense acknowledges that the defendant may have been intoxicated by the drug but is based on the fact that the defendant, because of taking the drug, did not consciously drive or control their car.
Prescription Drugs and New York DWI Law
In most DWAI Drugs cases, a driver will usually be convicted only if the prescribing physician informed them of the hazards of driving while taking their medication. A DWAI Drugs case can only be successfully prosecuted when the defendant knows about the intoxicating nature of the drug they have taken. New York courts have, in the past, allowed DWAI Drugs defendants to introduce evidence that they did not know of the possible effects of a prescribed medication on their driving ability and that they did not receive warnings from their doctor or their pharmacist as to the effects of their prescription medication, and that they had no reason to anticipate the intoxicating effects the drug caused.
The attorneys at the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are experienced in handling DWI cases. If you need a lawyer who can help you obtain the best possible outcome in your DWI case, call the law firm of Nave DWI Defense Attorneys.
The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 269 W. Jefferson St.; Syracuse, New York 13202; Telephone No.: (315) 473-0899. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.