What are drug recognition experts and do you have those in Michigan? That is to say, someone who would perhaps be called to the scene to detect drugs other than alcohol in someone who has been pulled over for DUI.
No. In Michigan, there may be some people who have had some special training, but it’s not a common occurrence that you’ll have a specialized expert in drug recognition science called to the scene. Typically, a regular officer will just feel that there is something wrong with that driver, they’ll ask some questions, and if they can’t find sufficient explanation for the symptoms based on the blood alcohol level, then they’ll become more suspicious of whether or not they’re under the influence of drugs. At that point, they’ll do things like check the pupils, check coordination, check for slurred speech, and other kinds of commonsense things. Generally, though, if they conclude after a while—and they’ll usually spend a little more time on cases of suspected driving under the influence of drugs—they will simply arrest the person and then seek a blood draw to try to determine what’s in their system.
What are the laws in Michigan regarding prescription medications and operating a motor vehicle? Have you seen a lot of these cases over the past years?
I think they’re increasing somewhat, but not rapidly. For the most part, the law states that if you have a valid prescription, then you can operate your vehicle while using your prescription. However, if your ability to drive is impaired by that drug, then you can be arrested and prosecuted. So it’s up to you and your doctor to determine whether or not you can handle that medication and still drive. Those cases are a little bit easier to defend than an alcohol case because there is no specific cut-off level for the amount of the drug you can have in your system if it’s legally prescribed. In other words, it’s all about whether or not your driving was bad and if it was bad because of the drugs. That gives us more opportunity to demonstrate that the use of those drugs did not cause bad driving. With alcohol, however, to be guilty of operating while intoxicated, they have to basically just prove that your blood alcohol level was 0.08 or above, so it’s a little bit easier to defend cases of operating under the influence of drugs.
Now, cases involving non-prescription drugs like street drugs are harder because they just have to show the mere presence of them in your body.
In prescription medication cases where people are arrested for DUI, do they tend to be surprised that they’ve done something wrong or that they’ll be accused of that?
Yes. A lot of times, people are not aware of the effect that the drugs are having on them. They’re often surprised and don’t believe that they’re having any difficulties, but many times, when you watch the videotapes of the arrest, you can see that there was quite an effect on the person. Once we get the blood draws back, we’re able to analyze the levels of the substances based on whether or not they’re within or above therapeutic levels. There is some additional science that could be looked at once they’re arrested.
Do you find yourself having to use science in the defense strategies in these types of DUI cases?
Yes, quite often, we try to use science to explain that the person was not under the influence of the drugs or that they were using them reasonably or that maybe there were some other explanations such as the combination of medications that caused an effect that the defendant could have known about.
Are the penalties in prescription drug DUI cases similar to those for an alcohol DUI?
Yes. They are pretty much the same as operating while intoxicated, and they’re a little bit worse than operating while visibly impaired. But yes, they’re still very similar.
What types of illegal drugs are most commonly found in the DUI cases that you see?
Probably the most common is marijuana. There’s an important distinction between people who have a valid medical marijuana prescription and those who don’t. If you have a valid prescription, then it’s treated like a normal prescribed drug, and they have to show that your ability to operate that vehicle was impaired by the use of those drugs. If you don’t have a prescription and it’s illegal for you to possess that marijuana, all they have to show is that the marijuana was present in your system and you can be prosecuted for operating under the influence of drugs. So it’s a big advantage—in the sense of a strong defense—that people have a medical marijuana card.
Are there laws in Michigan that address certain levels of the drugs even for those who are taking it legally as a prescription, such as there is with alcohol? You can have a drink or two and maybe still be under the legal limit.
No, we don’t have any law right now that goes by levels. It’s just based on whether or not the prosecutor can prove that you were actually impaired by the use of those drugs.
For more information on prescription drug-related DUI in Michigan, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you’re seeking by calling (248) 451-2200 today.