Most people know that if you drink and drive, you might be charged with driving while impaired (DWI). In North Carolina, not only can driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher lead to a DWI charge, but driving while under the influence of another impairing substance can lead to DWI charges, too.
Here, we discuss what it means to drive under the influence of an impairing substance and address how taking prescription drugs can result in a DWI charge.
DWI Charges for Prescription Drugs
Under North Carolina G.S. § 20-138, those who drive under the influence of an impairing substance can be charged with a DWI. An impairing substance is defined as any “drug or psychoactive substance capable of impairing a person’s physical or mental faculties.” If they affect a person’s ability to drive safely, medication and prescription drugs are considered impairing substances.
It does not matter if a doctor or dentist prescribed or administered the prescription drug – that is not a defense to a DWI charge. If the medicine you take impairs your driving abilities, you are potentially on the hook for a DWI. Before getting behind the wheel, if you are taking prescribed medication, always ask your doctor about possible side effects so you can determine if it is safe for you to drive.
How Does the State Prove a DWI Charge for Prescription Drugs?
Unlike a DWI charge for driving under the influence of alcohol, there is no easy test to determine whether a person is driving impaired under the influence of prescription drugs. Instead, evidence will be presented to the court that the driver was displaying impairment signs, such as dizziness, drowsiness, vision loss, or weakness, any of which could indicate he or she was driving under the influence of prescription medication. Complicating the matter further is the fact that drugs affect people to different degrees. At trial, prosecutors may try to prove impairment by calling an expert to testify on the prescription drug’s effects.
Penalties for a Prescription Drug DWI
When it comes to penalties, DWIs for prescription drugs are treated in the same manner as alcohol-related DWIs and include fines, jail or prison time, and license revocation. A judge will take into consideration the facts of the case, including aggravating and mitigating factors and the driver’s prior driving record, when determining the level of punishment to impose.
The least serious misdemeanor charge carries a $200 fine and a jail sentence of at least 24 hours, the most serious misdemeanor charge carries a $4,000 minimum fine and a minimum jail sentence of 30 days, and felony charges carry much more severe penalties, such as hefty fines and lengthy terms of imprisonment.
Contact Us for a Free Consultation
If you have been charged with a DWI after taking prescription drugs or medication, Cotten Firm is here to help. Reach out to us for a free consultation to see how Attorney Jeremy Cotten can help you build a strong defense.