DUI for Prescription Drug Intoxication

officer suspending license for drug possession

There are numerous medications that can diminish a patient’s physical and cognitive capabilities, even when taken as legally prescribed. This is a potential problem in New Jersey, where law enforcement has become very aggressive in arresting drivers and bringing prescription drug DUI / DWI charges. There are technical differences in how prosecutors handle a DUI for prescription drugs, but a conviction is still damaging in terms of a fine, jail time, loss of driving privileges and a DUI / DWI on your record.

If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated because New Jersey police claim you were under the influence of a prescription drug, such as OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, Ritalin or another medication, our New Jersey DWI lawyers at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help you.

Our team of former N.J. prosecutors and public defenders has the exceptional qualifications and experience to build an effective DUI prescription drug defense for you, including:

  • 5 lawyers certified in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), the only recognized mechanism for proving a prescription drug DWI after evidence like blood or urine tests are eliminated.
  • 3 defense attorneys who are instructors in administration of SFST.
  • 5 attorneys certified to operate and maintain the Draeger Alcotest 7110 MKIIIC alcohol breath test instrument, New Jersey’s official “breathalyzer” machine, which is used in DWI drug cases.
  • 100 years of combined experience defending New Jersey residents charged with offenses related to driving while intoxicated.
  • Track record of litigating countless trials and getting charges against our clients dismissed.
  • 24/7 availability to respond to your needs for legal representation.

It is critical that you contact an experienced N.J. DWI defense attorney after being charged with prescription drug impaired driving in New Jersey. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can provide the legal knowledge and experience required to defend you against prescription drug DUI charges and seek the outcome that has the least adverse impact on your life.

Understanding the Law and Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs

New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50) makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle “while under the influence of an intoxicating narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.” The law applies to any chemical substance capable of causing a condition of intoxication, inebriation, excitement, stupefaction or the dulling of the brain or nervous system as a result of the inhalation of the fumes or vapors of such chemical substance.

The law allows New Jersey law enforcement and prosecutors to bring charges of driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated against a person who has taken any number of prescription drugs if the arresting officer can show that the drug has impaired the driver’s driving ability.

When a DWI case is based on the driver having ingested some form of pharmaceutical drug as opposed to alcohol, the typical method for proving intoxication, breathalyzer results, is not evidence for conviction. Therefore, after ruling out alcohol intoxication with a breath test, police and prosecutors need a blood or urine test to establish the presence of a narcotic or other drug in the suspect’s system.

The mere presence of a prescription drug in the blood or urine of a suspect is not, by itself, enough to establish “intoxication.” To prove that the driver was impaired so as to prevent him or her from operating a vehicle safely, the prosecutor must rely on the testimony of a drug recognition expert (“DRE”). The DRE must be called into the police station following the stop and give the accused driver a battery of tests intended to detect what drug the driver has ingested and whether the driver is impaired.

The law in New Jersey is very clear that a prescription DUI offense cannot be proven without the examination conducted by a DRE.

How a Drug Recognition Expert Responds to Prescription Drug DUI Charges

There are seven categories of drugs that a drug recognition expert (DRE) is trained to detect:

  • Narcotic Analgesics / Opioids – prescribed for relief from moderate-to-severe acute or chronic pain. Prescription opioids include oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet, Roxicet), codeine and morphine.
  • Central Nervous System Depressants – tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Commonly prescribed CNS depressants include diazepam (Valium), clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), triazolam (Halcion) and estazolam (Prosom).
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants – these stimulants are prescribed for weight reduction, attention deficit disorder, narcolepsy or chronic lethargy, and prolonged depression that is unresponsive to traditional antidepressants. Commonly prescribed CNS stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta).
  • Cannabis – marijuana, hashish. Medicinal marijuana is available in New Jersey for a variety of debilitating medical conditions, from anxiety to glaucoma, cancer, migraines and Tourette syndrome.
  • Inhalants – nitrites prescribed for chest pain (angina), such as a nitroglycerin lingual aerosol (Nitromist). This category also includes abused substances, such as glue, solvents, aerosol sprays, and gasoline.
  • Hallucinogens – drugs that alter a person’s awareness of their surroundings as well as their own thoughts and feelings. Hallucinogens include LSD (acid), MDMA (ecstasy, molly), psilocybin (mushrooms) and peyote (mescaline).
  • Dissociative Anesthetics – a class of hallucinogens, which may be prescribed as anesthetics, including dextromethorphan (found in prescription cold and cough medicines), phencyclidine (PCP), ketamine, and nitrous oxide (laughing gas).

Can You Get a Dui for Prescription Drugs?

The DRE certification body, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, has established a 12-step protocol that a DRE must follow to detect drugs and impairment:

  1. Breath Alcohol Test – The suspect is to be given a breathalyzer test to determine whether alcohol is a factor.
  2. Consultation with Arresting Officer – The DRE asks about the suspect’s driving, conduct at roadside, and performance of Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs).
  3. Preliminary Examination – The DRE conducts initial questioning of the suspect, including asking about any prescribed medications that the suspect is taking.
  4. Eye Examination – This primarily involves examination of the pupils and the existence or lack of nystagmus (i.e., smooth tracking of the eyes horizontally or vertically).
  5. Divided Attention Tests – The DRE conducts field sobriety tests, namely, the one-leg stand, walk and turn, finger-to-nose and Modified Romberg Balance test.
  6. Examination of Vital Signs – The heart rate/pulse, blood pressure and body temperature of the suspect are to be taken.
  7. Dark Room Examination – Certain types of drugs may dilate or constrict the pupils of the eye. The DRE examines the suspect’s pupils under three levels of lighting to determine whether they are dilated, normal or constricted.
  8. Examination of Muscle Tone – Some categories of drugs make muscles loose and flaccid, and other drug categories make muscles rigid.
  9. Examination for Injection Sites and Pulse – At this point, the DRE is also to take the suspect’s pulse again.
  10. Suspect’s Statement and Any Other Observations – The DRE is to ask about drug use, both historically and recently.
  11. Opinion of the Evaluator – If the DRE concludes the suspect is impaired, the DRE is to determine which category of drugs contributed to the impairment.
  12. Toxicology Sampling – a blood, saliva and/or urine sample should be taken and sent to a toxicological lab for testing.

The many requirements of building a prescription drug DWI charge make the case against a suspect complicated. The flip side of this complexity is the opportunity for the defense to ask questions and raise issues that diminish the prosecution’s case. This is where experience in drug recognition is so important — experience that our DUI defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Jonathan Marshall have.

How to Fight a DUI Charge for Prescription Drugs

To satisfy a New Jersey court that the defendant is guilty of driving under the influence, the prosecution must prove that the defendant was in control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated. The court must base a finding that a defendant was intoxicated by drugs on testimony of a drug recognition expert, which relies on the findings of the DRE’s investigation.
But the DRE’s interpretation of the facts is highly subjective. First and foremost, he or she is immediately biased by the arresting officer’s description of the arrest. This includes the officer’s evaluation of the suspect’s demeanor at roadside – immediately after the adrenaline rush of seeing a police car’s light go on and being stopped and ordered out of a vehicle.

As your prescription drug dui defense lawyers, we would examine all aspects of your arrest, particularly each step of the DRE’s examination of you. We would prepare to question the DRE in court to make him or her go back through each step and explain their methods and conclusions to a defense attorney who understands drug recognition exams as well as they do.

We will ensure that the law is applied properly to the circumstances of your case, which includes making sure the prosecution can prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt before seeking to convict you of a crime. Because our defense attorneys fully understand the law and have professional relationships with local prosecutors and judges throughout New Jersey, our arguments will receive fair consideration as we work to have charges dropped or reduced.

The Law Offices of Johnathan F. Marshall can defend your rights if you face a prescription drug DUI charge in New Jersey. We have handled DWI and DUI drug cases as prosecutors and defense attorneys in courtrooms across the state. We can help you keep a conviction from damaging your life today and limiting your opportunities in the future.

Meet with Our New Jersey Prescription Drug DWI Attorneys Now

If you face charges of driving while intoxicated or under the influence of prescription drugs anywhere in New Jersey, a New Jersey DUI attorney from the Law Offices of Johnathan F. Marshall can help you seek the best possible resolution to your case. It is imperative to be represented by an experienced N.J. DWI attorney as soon as possible after an arrest. We can investigate the circumstances of the arrest and challenge the evidence so you may avoid potentially costly and long-lasting penalties.

Contact the Law Offices of Johnathan F. Marshall at any of our nine locations across New Jersey as soon as possible for a free initial consultation about a prescription drug DUI charge.