Can I Get Convicted of a DWI for Taking a Prescription Medication in NJ?

Sometimes we talk to a prospective client who is surprised and unhappy to have been charged with driving while impaired after having taken legally prescribed drugs. We have to tell them that you can be convicted of driving while impaired in New Jersey based on the adverse effects that prescription medications have had on your driving ability.

However, a guilty verdict is not a given in a case involving a charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John Marshall are going to do everything legally possible to defend you and prevent you from being convicted of a prescription drug DWI.

New Jersey’s DWI laws are among the strictest in the nation. Whether you refer to it as driving while impaired (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) or driving under the influence of drugs (DUID), a first conviction results in jail time, hundreds of dollars in fines, loss of driving privileges, and lasting financial consequences.

If you are facing a DWI charge, you should immediately seek legal help to avoid a DWI conviction in New Jersey, even if the source of your impairment was medication prescribed to you by your doctor. The experienced N.J. DWI defense attorneys at The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall work out of multiple offices. Call us at (877) 450-8301 or fill out our online form now to set up a free initial legal consultation.

What Does New Jersey’s DWI Law Say About Medications?

New Jersey law (NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-50 Driving while intoxicated) makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating:

  • Liquor
  • Narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, or
  • With a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more.

New Jersey’s courts define “intoxication” or “being under the influence” as a substantial deterioration of the mental faculties or physical capabilities of a person resulting from ingestion of alcohol or drugs.

While most medications don’t affect driving ability, some prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medicines can cause drowsiness and reactions that may make it unsafe to drive.

These reactions may include:

  • Sleepiness/drowsiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed movement
  • Fainting
  • Inability to focus or pay attention
  • Nausea
  • Excitability.

Commonly used prescription drugs that may cause intoxication as defined under New Jersey law include:

  • Opioid pain relievers (narcotics), such as Vicodin or Oxycontin, can cause drowsiness and feelings of euphoria. Some opioids can be prescribed to treat coughing and diarrhea. Tramadol, a widely prescribed narcotic-like pain reliever (ConZip, Ultram, Ultram ER), can cause dizziness, lack of coordination, or loss of consciousness.
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants taken for anxiety, like Valium or Xanax. These drugs slow brain activity and may cause loss of coordination and sleepiness.
  • Stimulants prescribed for ADHD, such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta. In high doses they can cause irregular heartbeat, heart failure or seizures.

The active ingredient in many OTC cold and cough medicines, dextromethorphan, can cause drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness, nausea and vomiting.

If You Are Arrested for ‘Drugged Driving’ DWI in New Jersey

Police need probable cause to stop a driver. Typically, a driver who raises DWI suspicions weaves within or across lanes, crosses the centerline, drives substantially below the speed limit, fails to turn headlights on, makes some other driving error and/or crashes their vehicle.

If police think you exhibit signs of being under the influence but you do not smell of alcohol, the police may arrest you for drugged driving or DUID. Since a Breathalyzer only detects alcohol in saliva, police will require a blood test or urine test to establish the presence of a narcotic or other drug in your system.

Do not refuse a blood test. You could be fined hundreds of dollars and lose your license for up to a year. The blood or urine test that indicates the presence of a prescription drug does not establish that you were under the influence. It only indicates that an opiate or other intoxicant was present, which is legal if you have a prescription.

To prove that a driver exhibits a substantial impairment of mental faculties or physical capabilities, a drug recognition expert (“DRE”) must run a battery of tests intended to detect the type of drug involved and the amount of impairment.

The law in New Jersey is very clear that a driving under the influence of prescription drugs offense cannot be proven without a DRE’s report. Sometimes police cannot find a DRE or simply neglect to make the effort, and the prosecutor lacks the evidence needed to make their case.

Other potential challenges to a drugged driving charge include:

  • Lack of probable cause or reasonable suspicion for stopping you (an illegal traffic stop)
  • Improper administration and/or interpretation of field sobriety tests
  • Lack of probable cause to believe you were intoxicated
  • Failure to advise you of your Miranda rights against self-incrimination
  • Inability to establish the defendant’s operation of the motor vehicle.

After any arrest, you should exercise your right to remain silent except to request a phone call. You should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall has the experience you want behind you to protect your rights and work to obtain the best possible outcome for you if you face a DWI charge in New Jersey.

Tips for Reducing the Risk of Mixing Prescription Medications and Driving

You should not stop using a prescribed medicine unless your doctor tells you to do so. It is important to take medications at prescribed levels and doses.

If you must drive while taking a prescription medication that could cause substantial deterioration of your driving ability, you should:

  • Ask your health care professional or pharmacist about side effects of drugs you are prescribed, including those that may interfere with driving. Request printed information about the side effects of any new medicine.
  • Carry a list of all medications you are taking, including product names, dosages and side effects.
  • Learn how your body reacts to medications you have been prescribed. Keep track of how you feel and when adverse effects occur and adjust your dosage schedule to better fit driving requirements.
  • Talk to your doctor(s) about possibly adjusting dosages or changing the medicine to one that causes less drowsiness, dizziness, coordination issues.

You may also consider alternatives to driving yourself, such as:

  • Rides with family and friends
  • Taxi cabs
  • Shuttle buses or vans
  • Public buses, trains, subways
  • Walking.

Contact Our New Jersey Drugged Driving Lawyers Now

A prescription drug DWI or DUID charge tends to be a more technical and complicated case than a DWI based on blood-alcohol content. That is why it is so important to have an attorney experienced with prescription drug DUIs at your side. Every case is unique, and there are a number of defenses to driving under the influence of drug charges.

To speak with one of our drugged driving defense lawyers about your case, please call (877) 450-8301 or contact us online to arrange a free consultation. All of our attorneys are former New Jersey prosecutors and public defenders who now exclusively handle criminal defense cases. Let the Law Offices of Jonathan Marshall put our firm’s experience and resources to work for you.