DWI after taking prescription drugs – yes, you can get a DWI while following your prescription

by | Jul 24, 2019 | Blog Posts, DWI, NC Criminal Defense

DWI after taking prescription drugs – In North Carolina, Driving While Impaired (DWI) can carry some serious consequences, and can have lasting effects.  Most adult drivers are a least somewhat familiar with what a DWI is, but there are a lot of misconceptions.  One of those misconceptions is that DWI always involves drinking.  That’s not true.  Once we clear that up, it leads to another misconception, which is that it always has to involve illegal drugs or alcohol…also not true.

What is true is that any impairing substance can lead to a DWI conviction, so yes you can get a DWI when you are on medicine that was prescribed to you by your doctor, and you are using as it as directed.  In this blog, we will discuss that.  Like all of our blogs, this is intended for informational purposes only, and not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a DWI attorney.

Elements of a DWI

The elements of a DWI are covered under North Carolina General Statute 20-138.1.  Under this statute a DWI is simply:

  • Driving
  • A vehicle
  • On a street, highway or public vehicular area
  • While under the influence of an impairing substance, or after consuming a sufficient quantity of alcohol that the person has an alcohol concentration of .08 or more at any relevant time after driving, or with any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance or its metabolites in his or her blood or urine.

Nowhere in those elements does it say that the impairing substance is excused if you have a prescription for it.

DWIs with prescription drugs as the only cause

One main difference between prescription drugs in relation to DWIs and what people imagine to be true in their minds is that there is no set measure unlike 1. Alcohol that follows the rule of a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher or 2. The fact that any quantity of a Schedule I substance would qualify under DWI rules.

With regard to prescription drugs the real focus in a DWI trial is on impairment while driving.  It doesn’t matter if you were following the prescription as recommended, it matters if the substance made you impaired while you were driving. This standard is known as “appreciable impairment”.

Consequences for DWI convictions involving prescription drugs

Exactly the same.  We cannot stress enough that this is not some form of DWI, it’s simply…DWI. DWI’s follow the North Carolina DWI sentencing guidelines, which include license suspensions and other punishments.  Also, a conviction of DWI can never be expunged. If you receive a subsequent DWI conviction within seven years of a previous DWI conviction, the previous conviction will count as a grossly aggravating factor.

If you have been charged with a DWI in North Carolina, contact us.

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