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.
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.