If you ever wondered whether the Texas police could arrest you for a DWI on account of the prescription meds you take for a health condition, the answer is yes. According to the Texas Penal Code § 49.04, “a person commits an offense if the person is intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.”
The “intoxication” concept in Texan law includes alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription medication, and even over-the-counter drugs. So is the police going to throw a class B misdemeanor in your lap, together with a fine and a probable driver’s license suspension because you take your vitamins every morning? Not likely.
How about the prescribed pain medication you take for a chronic condition? What about the meds you are already tolerant of because of the prolonged use? In such cases, the police have to show evidence that your medication impaired you, and the prosecution needs to deal with the burden of proof.
How Can Police Officers Have a Prescription Medication DWI Case against You?
When you drive recklessly, commit a traffic violation, or are part of a car accident, the first thing authorities will do is test your alcohol levels. In this case, things are quite clear and straightforward.
Nevertheless, suppose the officer stops you for what they consider erratic driving or a minor traffic slip. The breathalyzer does not show anything because you did not drink, and the medicine does not show up in any test except for blood.
According to DWI attorney in Dallas Randall B. Isenberg, things start to get tricky at this point. First, the police officer will try to determine whether you are driving while impaired by analyzing your appearance and behavior. Then, if the officer establishes that the effects of your prescription medication had a significant effect on your driving, they can arrest you. But how can the officer know about your prescription medication? And what medication is that?
The evidence in a DWI charge in Texas revolve around the following:
- Your admission of taking prescription medication. You should not disclose to any officer that you take any medication at all.
- The evidence offered by a blood test. However, the presence of prescription medication in your blood is not proof that you were legally intoxicated;
- The officer’s testimony that you appeared impaired. From sleepy to drowsy or from nonresponsive to incoherent in speech, these “signs” need to stand on solid proof;
- Observations from a field sobriety test.
Jails in all states would be full to the brim if juries would find guilty all the Americans who appeared exhausted, tired, angry, erratic, or incoherent during a police stop. After all, reports show that over 50% of Americans take prescription medication. We all know the same drug has different effects on different people. Moreover, most people take more than just one drug to treat a medical condition.
In other words, if you admit to following your doctor’s orders, officers take into account other issues before arresting and charging you with a DWI offense.
- If they pulled you over for a traffic violation, they would consider the severity of this violation;
- Your conduct during the conversation with the officer bears plenty of weight. Were you rude, congenial, aggressive, dismissive, absent even?
- The visible presence of a medicine bottle or blister in your car;
- Whether you had a minor in your car at the time of the stop;
- If you were involved in a car accident before the stop that precipitated your arrest.
If a police officer stops you and arrests you for a DWI, the first thing you should do is contact a DWI lawyer at once. Even if you refuse to take a blood test, authorities will most likely obtain a warrant. However, the ball is still in their court because they have to prove your impairment directly links to the prescription medication you took. You should also know that you couldn’t build a defense by saying that your doctor prescribed the medicine.
The Burden of Proof and Defenses in Texan DWI Cases
A DWI charge requires the officer to know that you have taken prescription medication. In most cases, police officers pay attention to drugs like Xanax, Vicodin, Oxycontin, Ambien, and other drugs with known effects on the central nervous system, opioids, stimulants, etc.
However, other medications can have a negative influence on your physical and mental state. DWI-related prescription drugs or OTC medication include:
- pain killers;
- antihistamines (some of them still cause blurry vision, even if they do not cause drowsiness);
- hypertension medication;
- anti-depression or anxiety pills,
- muscle relaxants, and more.
If they charge you with a DWI, the prosecutor has to prove the charge based on you not having the full normal use of your physical or mental abilities due to intoxication caused by prescription drugs.
Since there is no minimum legal level of intoxication for driving under the influence of prescription medication, the prosecution must provide evidence that you were impaired. Unfortunately, in the lack of a statement on your part, using only the blood test results and the police officer’s testimony, the prosecution has difficulty building a case, let alone get a conviction.
Never Think You Are Off the Hook. Always Take Precautions
Even if they don’t convict you for a DWI offense, the mere arrest and charge could have severe consequences on your life. From damages to your reputation and self-esteem to difficulties in obtaining a job or a loan, a DWI offense on your record is a burden for you and a red flag for others. Even if your lawyer helps you get rid of the charges, the shadow of the DWI will follow you forever.
As is with the medicine you take and the health condition you treat, prevention is the best choice. So here are some things to take to heart when you use prescription medication:
- Discuss with your doctor all the side effects of the medicine they prescribed, especially if your lifestyle involves a lot of driving;
- Tell your doctor about all the other prescribed or OTC meds you take to understand the interactions and their likelihood to affect your driving;
- Take the drugs for a few days to understand how they modify your health status, reporting any side effects they have on your physical or mental abilities;
- Always take your medication according to the prescription to avoid abuse;
- If you have a strict daily treatment schedule, follow it;
- Always read the medication leaflets, instructions, packaging, etc. If there is something you don’t understand, clarify with your doctor or pharmacist.
- If some medication influences your motor skills or mental prowess, discuss with your doctor about modifying your dosage or schedule to avoid interference with the times you have to drive.
A DWI arrest in Texas is different from a DUI in other states, so do not take things lightly. Beyond the legal and life troubles coming together with a DWI charge, some prescription medication can harm our physical and mental abilities, which, sadly, can result in the endangering of your life and others’. In such cases, the human and legal advice is to be careful about all the drugs you take and always keep in touch with your doctor.