Can I Be Charged with OUI for Driving While Taking Prescription Medications?

May 31, 2012


Many commonly prescribed medications cause symptoms that can affect a driver’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, and so it is becoming increasingly common for a driver to be arrested for an OUI Drugs Offense after using medication as directed by a doctor. A recent Massachusetts OUI case, for example, involved a man who had not had a single drink in 15 years and was not an illegal drug user, but he was stopped at 7:00 a.m. on his way to work and arrested for OUI Drugs. All of the drugs in his system were medications prescribed by his doctor for various legitimate medical conditions. Ultimately the OUI Drug charge was dismissed.

In cases like this, the Commonwealth must prove a particular prescribed medication falls into the category of a “narcotic drug” as defined under M.G.L. Chapter 94C, section 1, AND that the person taking the medication had prior knowledge that the side effects of the drug could impair their capacity to drive safely. That makes cases like these quite difficult to prove. Without a blood test and expert testimony to describe to a jury the effects of certain medications, Motions to Dismiss are common.

OUI Drugs Cases Differ from Other Cases of Alleged Intoxication

In drunk driving cases, the prosecution routinely calls upon jurors to utilize their own experience and knowledge of the effects of alcohol. However, the effects of any particular

prescribed medication on a person are beyond the ordinary understanding of most jurors and pharmaceutical side effects are known to differ wildly from person to person. Additionally, most people have a basic understanding of the effects of alcohol on drivers, whereas there is no way to prove that a person taking a prescription medication has been informed of all possible side effects, including those that could make driving dangerous. Ultimately, taking a medication as prescribed without knowledge of the effects upon the capacity to drive safely is “involuntary intoxication” and therefore not a criminal act.

OUI Drugs Offense Arrests on the Rise

So-called “drugged driving” arrests are on the rise, and this number includes both incidents involving illicit drugs and incidents involving prescribed medications. Consequently, police departments throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire are sending certain police officers to special training to become “Drug Recognition Experts” or “DRE.” This training is designed to equip a police officer with the ability to determine what particular class of drugs are present (stimulants, depressants, etc.) in an allegedly impaired driver and whether said person is under the influence of that class of drug.

In Massachusetts, the Court must determine prior to trial whether DRE training and the protocol meet scientific requirements to be admissible at trial and whether a police officer can testify as an “expert” in the areas of drug physiology and drug pharmacology. It is often the case that the government cannot meet the burden of showing scientific acceptance of the DRE protocol and training to make this opinion testimony admissible at trial.

If you have been charged with an OUI Drugs Offense in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, you need to hire a lawyer qualified to handle the scientific, evidentiary, and legal issues that apply to a “drugged driving” case. OUI attorney Michael Bowser has years of experience successfully defending those accused of drugged driving in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. If you have been charged with an OUI in Massachusetts or New Hampshire or have questions about OUI penalties in either state, call Attorney Michael Bowser today at 1-888-5BOWSER to discuss OUI penalties and your individual circumstances.

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Mike Bowser has unique experience and knowledge which he uses to protect his clients.

  • Mike Bowser is the only Board Certified DUI Defense Specialist who practices in MA, NH & ME. This means he had to pass rigorous examinations and interviews about his knowledge of DUI law to become certified.
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