DUI: It’s Not Just About Too Much to Drink

pittsburgh criminal defense attorneyNew Year’s Eve, aka, “Amateur Drunk Night”, has a well deserved reputation for seeing people who may not ordinarily drink, having too much to drink. Most will simply wake up with a hangover and spend New Year’s Day nursing themselves.

Then there are those who make the decision to drive.

And they get caught.

If you think a hangover is bad, try nursing that hangover in the county jail. Not a pleasant thought, and it’s every bit as bad as it sounds.

There is a common misconception about DUI– that it’s about drinking alcohol. That is increasingly not the case at all.

Driving Under the Influence (DUI) makes absolutely no mention of alcohol, for the simple fact that alcohol is not the only drug that can negatively affect your driving abilities.

One of my biggest problems with pharmaceutical labeling is that it’s very vague. “Shouldn’t operate heavy machinery” makes it sound like you better not take the bulldozer out for a spin when taking a prescription drug. People don’t generally think of their car as being ‘heavy machinery’, and since the drugs they are taking were prescribed to them by a doctor, they erroneously believe it’s okay to drive when taking a prescription. They couldn’t be more wrong.

Drugs like Oxycontin are extremely potent, mind altering drugs that can affect your reflexes and judgement every bit as much as a six pack of cold brews.

Legally speaking, it’s difficult to prove– or to disprove– the effects of a prescription drug on a person’s ability to drive in the same way it is with alcohol.

Unlike alcohol, where a simple blood test can determine levels of impairment, there is no standardized test for prescription drugs. The proof is mainly in the determination of the arresting officer. If the police determine a person was driving erratically as the result of being under the influence of a drug, prescribed or otherwise, it becomes a case of their word against yours, and courts regularly take the word of a police officer over that of a citizen. The accused may honestly believe they were okay to drive, but, more often than not, the court is going to base their judgement on the testimony of the arresting officer.

Another example that needs to be cited is marijuana.

The City of Pittsburgh has moved to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, but it’s still not legal. Fines of up to $100 can be imposed, based mostly on the circumstances surrounding the situation and the judgement of the police.

This is not true of operating a motor vehicle. If the police pull you over based on unsafe driving, they have every right to determine what caused it. If it’s marijuana, even though possession is decriminalized, they can still cite you for a DUI.

Even a first time offense DUI carries pretty stiff penalties, including loss of your driving privileges and jail time. Because there are currently no legal standards for testing whether or not marijuana actually caused impairment, the courts have no choice but to take the arresting officer at their word.

Suddenly, that small amount possession charge becomes a major problem. The police smelled weed on you, performed a search of the vehicle and your person, found pot, you were driving… DUI.

So this New Year’s Eve, if you’re going to drive, don’t drink and leave the weed at home. And if you’re taking a prescription drug like Oxycontin, definitely do not operate a motor vehicle. The police will be out in force, looking for impaired drivers, and chances are they’re not going to make a distinction between Budweiser and drugs prescribed by your doctor. They can’t afford to take the chance of letting someone go, only to have that same person crash their car, or God forbid, kill someone.

Everyone please have a safe and Happy New Year, and as always, call if you need me.


Leave a Reply