When people think about getting a charge of driving under the influence (DUI), they think of the typical drunk driver who is intoxicated from alcohol. However, it is just as possible to get a DUI for driving under the influence of drugs, both illegal and prescription.
If you or someone you care about has been arrested for DUI drugs, experienced Virginia DUI defense attorney Bryan J. Jones can defend your case and protect your constitutional rights.
Under the Influence of Drugs
Va. Code Ann 18.2-266 makes it illegal for a driver to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and sets a legal limit of alcohol in the blood to 0.08% blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
The same provision makes it unlawful to drive under the influence of drugs (DUI-D). A DUI-D occurs when a person operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs, both legal and illegal. Virginia is one of the few states that sets per se limits for certain drugs in addition to alcohol:
- Cocaine: 0.02 milligrams per liter of blood
- Methamphetamine: 0.1 milligrams per liter of blood
- Phencyclidine (PCP): 0.01 milligrams per liter
- MDMA (ecstasy): 0.1 milligrams per liter.
Other drugs not listed here may also be used in a charge of DUI-D, but do not have specific per se limits placed on them to determine whether a driver is intoxicated.
Penalties for a DUI-D
The penalties for a DUI-D are the same as a DUI charge for alcohol intoxication:
- First Offense: A Class 1 misdemeanor. Potential penalties include up to 12 months in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
- Second Offense (within 10 years): Also a Class 1 misdemeanor. Has the same penalties as a first offense, but there is mandatory jail time and mandatory minimum fines.
- Third Offense (within 10 years): A Class 6 felony. The potential penalties include up to 5 years in jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
- Fourth or Subsequent Offense (within 10 years): Also a Class 6 felony. The potential penalties are almost the same as those set for a third offense, except a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 12 months and a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 are imposed.
Other serious penalties may also include the loss of your license, which can affect your ability to maintain employment and live your daily life.
Testing for Intoxication
Unlike with alcohol, there is no breathalyzer that can be used to determine the presence or amount of drugs in a person's system. Instead, Virginia law enforcement relies on other methods to attempt to determine if you were intoxicated due to drugs.
Virginia law enforcement can obtain a warrant (or your consent) to perform a blood draw to test for the presence of drugs. This testing has to meet certain requirements, including being performed in an appropriate facility and with those trained in taking blood. The blood is then sent to be analyzed for the presence of drugs.
Depending on the concentration of certain drugs in your blood, the Virginia prosecutor may determine you were intoxicated while driving and proceed with criminal charges.
Field Sobriety Tests
Law enforcement officers commonly use field sobriety tests to help determine if a person is driving under the influence. Without a roadside breathalyzer, this is one of the few "tests" that help officers determine if a person is under the influence of drugs before making an arrest.
Field sobriety tests are not known for their scientific accuracy, but they are commonly used as evidence against you at trial. The three most common field sobriety tests are:
- the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test;
- the 9 Step Walk and Turn Test; and
- the One Leg Stand Test.
You have the right to refuse to participate in field sobriety tests. In fact, there are often good reasons to refuse to take field sobriety tests, as they are not mandatory.
Different Drugs, Different Situations
Depending on the drug involved, you may face certain unique challenges or circumstances. Every case is unique, but your Virginia DUI attorney can help you.
Each state's laws on marijuana are different. More and more states are legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational purposes – with certain limitations varying from state to state. For Virginians, marijuana is legal for some medical purposes, but not for recreational purposes. This makes it somewhat problematic given the District of Columbia permits recreational and medical use of marijuana.
Regardless of marijuana's legality, it is never legal to drive while under its influence. A unique issue that arises with marijuana is how long it remains in the bloodstream. A blood test may find the presence of marijuana in your blood hours or even days after the intoxicating effect has worn off. This can lead to a false charge of DUI.
Driving under the influence of illegal drugs can be very serious. While the DUI charges are the same regardless of the substance, if drugs are found in the car you could face drug possession charges or even drug trafficking charges (depending on the circumstances). When drug charges are indicted alongside DUI-D charges, your potential penalties are more serious.
If you have a prescription for a drug, but that drug causes you to be impaired while driving, you can still be charged with DUI-D. This is true even if you took the correct dose, and were not abusing the drug. Painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet or muscle relaxers like tramadol) can have serious impairing effects on you.
Even over-the-counter drugs can result in a Virginia DUI-D. Many over-the-counter medicines have side effects such as drowsiness (e.g., NyQuil and allergy medicines). These can cause you to drive less safely and lead to a charge of Georgia DUI-D.
Consult an Experienced Virginia DUI/DUI-D Attorney
DUI-D charges can lead to very serious penalties, but there are defenses you and your attorney can raise with the court to protect your constitutional rights. You do not have to face this process alone.