February 12, 2019
When You are Accused of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs
In some respects, DUI charges represent a bit of a numbers game. When it comes to alcohol-related offenses, your breathalyzer results lead to evidence and penalties. That said, there’s another area of concern. What happens when you are accused of driving under the influence of drugs?
Your troubles begin with a fender bender. When the police arrive at the scene, they sense you are a bit out of sorts. A witness to your accident states that you were driving erratically and ran the red light. The responding officer finds probable cause to investigate you for DUI.
First, you’re subject to field sobriety tests. When you’re asked to blow into the breathalyzer, you’re not overly concerned and give your consent. After all, you weren’t out drinking. Not surprisingly, the machine doesn’t show any trace of alcohol.
However, the police officer still suspects you are impaired and expresses concerns that you were driving while under the influence of drugs. They want to take you to the next step, which includes taking either a blood draw or urine test.
Now, you’re worried. A couple of days ago, you smoked a joint. You’ve heard that marijuana remains in your system for weeks. Although you weren’t high when you were behind the wheel, you have a reason for concern.
You’re also informed that someone else will be in to interview you. Apparently, the Pennsylvania State Police uses Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) in cases related to DUI and drugs.
Drug Recognition Experts
All things considered, there’s a chance you’ve never even heard of drug recognition experts. They are generally called in when a driver acts impaired but does not come up with a positive blood alcohol content (BAC) reading.
As of last year, Pennsylvania had 169 drug recognition experts, with 98 associated with the Pennsylvania State Police. All have received significant training relating to impaired driving and drug recognition.
An expert opinion from a DRE focuses on personal observations and experience. For example, fresh track marks might lead to a suspicion of driving under the influence of heroin. The expert also records blood pressure and determines whether pupils are dilated or pinpoint. Any other evidence reflective of drug use is documented as well.
In the meantime, the driver’s demeanor also adds to the total picture. Someone driving under the influence of particular controlled dangerous substances (CDS) may act lethargic. Meanwhile, other drugs cause more out of control behavior patterns.
Driving Under the Influence: Chemical Tests
The section of the statutes dealing with driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is found at 75 PA Cons Stat § 3802. Notably, the law states that the presence of different controlled substances or combination with alcohol represent impairment.
What does this mean exactly? For starters, Pennsylvania law does not depend on drug quantity levels. The fact that you come back with a positive reading at all could result in a DUI. For many, this could be problematic – as is the case for someone who comes back with THC in their system.
One more thing. You could be accused of driving under the influence even if the drugs you used were legal. This includes medical marijuana, painkillers, and medicine used to treat anxiety.
You should know that DUI convictions involving drugs come with steep penalties. Mazzoni Karam Petorak & Valvano has experience representing hundreds of defendants facing these types of charges. Give us a call to see how we can help you.