Most driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases involve drivers impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs, but can you get a DWI for consuming prescription medication in Texas? Under the Texas Penal Code, any substance that impairs your driving faculties could get you a DWI.
Therefore, you could face DWI charges in Texas if you are caught operating a motor vehicle after consuming prescription medication as long as the medicine affected your ability to drive safely. Yes, you could get in trouble with the law if you get behind the wheel after taking the prescription medication, even if you have a valid prescription from your doctor.
If you were charged with DWI for operating your car while impaired by prescription drugs, contact a criminal defense lawyer right away. Our Williamson County criminal defense attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard are prepared to help.
DWI and Driving with Prescription Medication in Texas
Contrary to popular belief, the definition of impaired driving includes driving under the influence of not only alcohol and illegal drugs but also any substance or dangerous drug that impairs a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.
When prescription medication impairs a driver’s driving faculties, it can meet the definition of a dangerous drug. Texas Penal Code § 49.01 reads that intoxication refers to a driver lacking “the normal use of mental or physical faculties” as a result of impairment by any controlled substance, dangerous drug, or alcohol.
What Prescription Medications Could Impair Your Driving Abilities?
Not all prescription medications are equally dangerous when it comes to operating a motor vehicle. Many legal drugs do not have any impact on the user’s driving abilities, while other prescription medications can make driving a vehicle unsafe, just like driving after consuming alcohol.
In Texas, police officers are trained to recognize signs of intoxication during traffic stops, which is why you can get a DWI if an officer believes that you lacked the normal use of mental or physical faculties to operate a vehicle regardless of the substance or drug that you consumed.
The following prescription and over-the-counter drugs can impair a driver’s ability to safely drive a motor vehicle:
This is not the full list of medications that impair a person’s ability to drive. If you are prescribed medication or are taking over-the-counter drugs, consult with your physician about the drug’s potential effect on your driving skills.
Penalties for DWI on Prescription Medication in Texas
DWIs on prescription drugs are penalized the same way as driving under the influence of alcohol. A first-time prescription medication DWI offense (Class B misdemeanor) includes the following penalties:
A maximum fine of $2,000
Up to six months in jail
One-year suspension of a driver’s license
However, the penalties for DWI on prescription medication change if the offender has prior convictions on their criminal record or there were any aggravating circumstances surrounding this offense. In that case, the DWI offense can be elevated up to a first-degree felony.
DWI offenders may also face other penalties in addition to the above-mentioned jail time, fines, and license suspension, including:
Installation of an ignition interlock device (IID)
Mandatory educational courses
Mandatory treatment program
Perhaps the most serious consequence of a DWI on prescription medication – or any other DWI in Texas – is that it cannot be expunged from your criminal record if you were convicted. Having a DWI on your record can affect your eligibility for public housing and ability to rent private housing, your ability to get a job, apply for a loan, and many more.
How Can Police Prove That You Were Impaired by Prescription Medication?
As you may know, law enforcement officers often administer field sobriety tests, including breathalyzers, to establish probable cause for an arrest when a driver is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Since the vast majority of prescription medications are not detected by a breathalyzer test, police officers have to rely on field sobriety tests to prove that a driver is impaired by prescription medication. However, these tests are very subjective in their nature, which gives drivers charged with DWI to challenge the accuracy or administration of the test.
When a person is arrested for a DWI, police officers can request that person submit to a blood test, which is more likely to detect prescription drugs than breath tests. Still, a blood test may not be effective in identifying the specific drug that was consumed by the driver before getting behind the wheel.
In many DWI cases based on prescription drugs, the arrested driver voluntarily admits to police officers that they took pain relievers, sedatives, antidepressants, or other prescription medications. It is vital to remain silent when arrested for DWI and avoid making statements that could be used against you.
What Are Defenses to DWI on Prescription Medication in Texas?
The most common defenses to DWI charges involving prescription drugs include:
Lack of probable cause. The police officers who stopped you did not have probable cause to arrest you.
Violation of constitutional rights. The officers violated your constitutional rights before, during, or after the arrest
Lack of reasonable suspicion. The law enforcement officers did not have reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle.
Inaccurate test results. The officers failed to follow the required protocols and procedures when administering tests, or the test results are otherwise inaccurate.
Note: Under Texas Penal Code § 49.10, showing that you have a prescription for the medication that caused your impairment is not a valid defense in Texas, even if you took the drug as prescribed.
Contact a Williamson County Criminal Defense Attorney
If you were arrested for a DWI after taking prescription medications, do not hesitate to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You may still have a chance to avoid a conviction by defending yourself against the DWI charges.Our team of skilled attorneys at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard are committed to helping you protect your rights, freedom, and future. Get a free consultation with our lawyers by calling (254) 220-4225.