Can I get Arrested for Driving while using Prescription Drugs?

Posted by Josh Valentine | Apr 19, 2018

We all know that driving under the influence of alcohol is against the law in North Carolina. We also know that getting behind the wheel after consuming or using illegal drugs is also prohibited under state law. What you may not know, however, is that it can be illegal to operate a motor vehicle while using prescription medication.

North Carolina DWI Law

In North Carolina, there are three different ways that you can violate the state's driving while intoxicated (DWI) law. The first is if you consume enough alcohol to raise your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above the legal limit. The second is if you have any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your blood or urine. The third is if you are under the influence of an impairing substance.

Alcohol & Schedule I Drugs

North Carolina DWI law is very specific when it comes to driving while under the influence of alcohol or a Schedule I controlled substance. You can only be arrested for impaired driving under N.C.G.S 20-138 if there is hard evidence of a certain amount of alcohol or any trace of an illegal substance in your system. This hard evidence exists when chemical tests (e.g., breathalyzer, blood, urine) confirm an officer's suspicion of DWI.

Impairing Substances

You can also be arrested for DWI if you drive “while under the influence of an impairing substance.” What is an impairing substance? What evidence must be used to support an officer's belief that you are unlawfully under the influence? While North Carolina DWI law is very specific when it comes to illegal substances and alcohol, it is considerably more vague and broad when it comes to “impairing substances.” 

An impairing substance is defined in North Carolina to mean alcohol, drugs, or psychoactive substances “capable of impairing a person's physical or mental faculties.” In other words, any substance (or combination of substances) that has the ability to affect you physically or mentally can be considered an impairing substance.

Reasonable Suspicion of Impaired Driving

When can police arrest you for DWI when you are using prescription medication? Police must simply have reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence of an impairing substance. Reasonable suspicion of impairment may exist if you exhibit the following.

  • Demonstrated difficulty concentrating or holding a conversation.
  • Slur your speech.
  • Cannot maintain your balance.
  • Have difficulty keeping your eyes open or maintaining eye contact.
  • Fail field sobriety tests.

Once police have reasonable suspicion that you are impaired, they may require you to submit to chemical testing. These tests will help to confirm that you have taken prescription medication. If chemical tests come back positive, the state can use the results as evidence to support the officer's assertion that you were not fit to operate a motor vehicle on state roads.

Penalties for Impaired Driving

Driving while impaired is a serious crime in North Carolina. The penalties are the same, regardless of whether you're charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs, or a lawfully obtained prescription. The fact that you chose to drive a car while impaired is the deciding factor.

Penalties for driving while impaired can include time in jail, substantial fines, probation, mandatory counseling, and the suspension of your driver's license. The consequences of driving while impaired can be aggravated if there were children in the car, you have prior DWI arrests, or anyone was injured because of your actions.

Fight Impaired Driving Charges in North Carolina

Have you been arrested for driving while under the influence of a legally obtained prescription? Contact an experienced North Carolina DWI attorney for help protecting your future. At Caulder & Valentine, our skilled attorneys know how to best handle your case and minimize the consequences of your arrest. Call today to schedule a consultation.

About the Author

Josh Valentine

You could say Josh has a God-given ability for sustaining long-term relationships. He and his wife first met in elementary school and went to Gardner Webb University (GWU) together, where they tied for number 1 in their class. Then, they both started law school on the same day of their graduation and got married during their first semester. He has also known his law partner Blake Caulder since Kindergarten. Theirs is the perfect partnership. “He’s the brake; I am the accelerator,” Josh says. Both Josh and his wife attended an innovative program at Charlotte Law School that allowed them to complete law school in two years instead of the typical three. His wife graduated and passed the North Carolina bar at age 20, becoming one of the youngest attorneys in the state. He readily admits she’s smarter than him. Of course, Josh went on to pass the North Carolina State Bar himself and later the South Carolina State Bar. While in school, he was Associate Editor of the Law Review and received accolades like Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society membership, Order of the Crown, Pro Bono Honors, CALI Awards (highest grade). In his career as a lawyer, he has been admitted to the United States Federal Court for the Western District of North Carolina, is a member of the American Association of Premier DUI Attorneys, and completed training for DWI Detection & Standardized Field Sobriety Testing. Josh has also been named to the Top 40 Under 40 for Criminal Defense by The National Trial Lawyers, the Business North Carolina 2019 Legal Elite for Criminal Defense, and the 10 Best Attorneys for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys three years in a row (2016, 2017, and 2018). Community involvement has been important to Josh all his life. In high school, he participated in building a Holocaust museum that has become internationally regarded. He and his wife are actively engaged in animal rescue, which currently means seven cats and two kittens. He served in prison ministry and assisted with fundraiser banquets there, and he provides pro bono and reduced fee legal services to those in need. As if all of that weren’t enough, Josh also mentors high risk youth and helps with his church’s youth group. He participates in other community volunteer projects involving construction, remodeling, drywall, painting, and landscaping. He’s an active student of the Bible and has traveled to Israel, Brazil, and Europe for mission work. No one can say Josh isn’t a well-rounded individual. In his spare time, he likes to play softball, basketball, and tennis, and he can play the piano and trombone. Sometimes on weekends, believe it or not, he enjoys pouring and finishing concrete with friends who own a concrete and grading business. In his law practice, Josh has made it a point to develop positive relationships with officers, clerks, and district attorneys, which has proven invaluable in delivering positive results for his clients. It’s important to him to both listen to his clients and fight for them. Law enforcement officers have important responsibilities to keep our communities safe and uphold the law, but one of the responsibilities of attorneys is to make sure officers do their job correctly. Josh considers it his job to hold them accountable for their actions. Josh is a person of deep faith. He knows that the established order of our universe and strength of America’s Judeo-Christian influenced court system is built on God’s word. His passion to serve each client with innovation, excellence and integrity is a byproduct of his faith. When asked why he became a lawyer, Josh says, “All through my life, I have personally witnessed family members and very close friends endure divorce, child custody battles, bankruptcy, civil lawsuits, and even fraudulent criminal accusations. I both saw and experienced the stress such events can place on an individual, and I realized that everyone, at some point in their life, needs hope, comfort, and encouragement. In each one of those situations, the person who was best situated to provide that vital support was their lawyer. So that’s why I became an attorney. I understand what you are going through, and I’m here to help you. Our office is focused on meeting your needs and guiding you through what may be the most difficult time of your life.” Education: Charlotte School of Law J.D., Magna Cum Laude Class Rank – 21 of 328 Associate Editor of Charlotte School of Law Law Review Certification and Concentration in Employment Law Phi Delta Phi International Legal Honor Society Order of the Crown Pro Bono Honors CALI Awards (Highest Grade)—Lawyering Process I and Contracts I Full Scholarship Gardner-Webb University B.S. in Accounting, Summa Cum Laude Distinguished Senior Student Award – Highest GPA Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honorary Society Bar Admissions: North Carolina State Bar