Not the Stereotypical Kansas Drunk Driver: DUI Risks from Legal Drug Use

The phrase “drunk driver” tends to elicit certain stereotypes like a person stumbling out of a bar at closing time and fumbling to find his car keys or a teenager smoking marijuana before climbing behind the wheel of his car. However, a middle aged soccer mom driving to the grocery store or young professional on his way to the office who is taking medications prescribed by one’s doctor can also find themselves facing an arrest for driving under the influence (DUI) in Kansas.

Kansas considers any drug, including prescription drugs and over the counter drugs, that causes one to fail a sobriety field test to be the basis for a DUI arrest. Kansas state laws permit a DUI arrest for driving under the influence of either alcohol or drugs. Many people who never drink alcohol or take illegal drugs do take prescription and over-the-counter medications. The definition of a drug, which can form the basis for DUI is very broad in most states, and typically includes any substance that can affect a person’s mental or physical driving abilities. It is even possible to be convicted of driving under the influence of drugs where the drug is of the over-the-counter variety, such as cold medicine, or even coffee or caffeine pills, if the drug adversely affects one’s driving ability. Common legal drugs that can negatively impact one’s driving and lead to an arrest for DUI include tranquilizers, sedatives, asthma or allergy medications, diet pills, energy supplements and sleep aids.

DUI cases in Kansas involving prescription and over-the-counter drugs can be more difficult for a prosecutor to prove. One reason for this is that a properly conducted prosecution requires that the prosecutor incur more cost to prosecute a DUI drug case than a generic DUI criminal case. Presuming that you do not disclose the specific drugs you have taken, the prosecutor typically will need to test your blood or urine sample for multiple substances. With each particular category of drug that is tested, the cost of the chemical testing increases. The prosecutor also will typically need to present testimony from a medical expert as to the effects of a particular drug at levels detected in your blood on your ability to operate a motor vehicle.

The worst thing that you can do if you are stopped for suspicion of DUI in Kansas and have taken prescription or over-the-counter medication that may cause you to be drowsy or affect your ability to drive is to admit this information to the police officer. If you disclose the drugs that may be in your system, you make it easier to conduct blood tests that will detect the particular substance and may provide the officer sufficient legal basis to conduct field sobriety tests, which typically play an important role in DUI cases involving prescription or over-the-counter medications. If the officer asks you to participate in a Breathalyzer test after conducting field sobriety testing, however, you should be aware that some drugs might cause a false positive result.

Unlike DUI charges based on alcohol, there is no specific amount of a drug in one’s blood that constitutes a legal presumption of being under the influence. This is both good news and bad news. Because there is no per se violation involving a presumption of impairment when you have a certain amount of a drug in your system, this often means there is no separate administrative suspension of your driver’s license. This also means that the prosecutor must rely on observations of a driver including the following:

• Erratic driving

• Smell of alcohol

• Red watery eyes

• Lack of balance or stumbling

• Slurred speech

All of these observations by the officer combined with field sobriety results as well as chemical testing results will typically be used to establish that a driver is under the influence of drugs. Fortunately, there are many plausible reasons for these physical symptoms that have nothing to do with alcohol consumption including allergies, contact lenses, fatigue, physical injuries or disabilities just to name a few. An experienced DUI defense lawyer also will have a great deal of experience in challenging field sobriety tests that are often conducted or scored improperly.

The bad news is that ANY amount of a drug in your system can form the basis of a DUI if it can be established that it impaired your driving. Prosecutors will typically use an expert witness to testify concerning how a certain amount of a drug in your system would affect you physically or mentally leading to impaired driving. It is very important in DUI cases involving prescription or over-the-counter drugs that you have an experienced DUI defense attorney who can cross-examine the prosecutor’s expert and present conflicting expert testimony or scientific evidence.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a DUI due to either a prescription medication or an over the counter medicine in your system, call us today to speak with a Liberal Kansas DUI attorney to discuss your case.

Courage, Caring, and Commitment for Every Case – Call (620) 624-8158.

Cities We Serve

Koehn & Tahirkheli, L.L.C. serves the Southwest Kansas cities of Liberal, Garden City, Sublette, Elkhart, Johnson City, Hugoton, Ulysses, Dodge City, Meade, Seward county, and serving all other communities in Southwest Kansas.

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