Everyone knows the danger of drinking and driving. You can get pulled over by the police and get hit for severe fines, costs, and even potentially spend time in jail. What you might not know is that there are ramifications for you even if you would never consider driving after having a drink. Virginians face the risk of receiving a DUI if they are caught driving while under the influence of prescription drugs.
Virginia’s DUI Laws
It is well documented that Virginia has pretty tough DUI laws. The punishments are near the top of the nation when it comes to jail time, fines, and license suspension. As with any other jurisdiction in the US, Virginia has a blood alcohol content limit of .08%. What many people don’t realize is that the law is actually split into different parts. Virginia’s statute actually comprises five different parts. They criminalize the following actions:
- Driving with a blood alcohol content of .08% or greater
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol
- Driving while under the influence of any narcotic, or any other self-administered intoxicant or drug of whatsoever nature or any combination of such drugs so as to impair the ability of the driver to drive safely
- Driving with any combination of drugs and alcohol that renders the driver impaired
- Driving with specific blood concentrations of cocaine, methamphetamine or other specific illegal drugs
Clearly, prescription drugs fall into the definition of “drug of whatsoever nature” and many are defined as self-administered intoxicants. Note well, however, that there is no defined limit within your blood for Ambien or Vicodin.
Ability to Drive Safely
Within the statute, a driver’s ability to drive safely and whether it has been impaired are the keys to whether the driver can be convicted. What constitutes an impairment to the degree that safety has been compromised? That is a very good question and one which really doesn’t have a defined answer. As with a DUI for alcohol, a police officer will be watching for failure to maintain a lane, failure to obey traffic control devices, tailgating, and actions of this sort to try to prove that the driver was not comporting themselves in a safe manner. Obviously, if there is an accident, the prosecutor would argue that this is direct evidence of unsafe driving. Now, all they have to do is prove that the impairment resulted from ingestion of intoxicants.
Proof in Prescription Cases
The police will investigate why the driver was operating in what they perceive to be an unsafe manner. They will look for pill bottles and the like. They will ask the driver and passengers questions. Therefore, it is good advice to leave pill bottles at home and to take extra medications at home if it is at all possible. It is even better advice to invoke your Fifth Amendment rights to not answer questions when they are put to you by the police. If the police can’t find pill bottles and you do not admit to taking medicine, they will often have a hard time putting together enough probable cause to arrest you. The police have the option, in exigent circumstances, to compel you to take a blood test but ordinarily, unless the intoxication is incredibly obvious, they most likely will not go that route.
Just remember that DUI in Virginia is not all about alcohol. Many prescription drugs have adverse side effects that could render a driver intoxicated. With the incredibly subjective standard that Virginia law applies, it doesn’t take much for the police to justify thinking they can charge you with DUI. If you find yourself facing any DUI charge in Northern Virginia, whether alcohol or drug related, give Jad Sarsour a call at (571)-316-2639 to set up your initial consultation. He has helped thousands of satisfied clients defend themselves against criminal charges in Northern Virginia. Put his experience to work for you today!