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Can I get Arrested for Driving while using Prescription Drugs?

Posted by Josh Valentine | Apr 19, 2018 | 0 Comments

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

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 that 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. Before attending law school, I worked for a law firm focused on record clearing services, including expungements, pardons, and motions for appropriate relief.  The vast experience and understanding of North Carolina's expungement laws that I have acquired has given me an advantage in defending criminal charges, because not only do I fight for the best possible outcome in your case, but I am also continually conscious of the long term effects that a criminal charge or conviction can have on a person's life.  As such, I will do whatever I can to insure that my clients will not end up with a criminal record.  I was born in New London, Connecticut, but spent the first few years of my life in Dallas, Texas, before moving to Rutherfordton, North Carolina in 2001.  Upon graduating from high school, I attended Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, where I majored in Accounting.  Eager to finish school, I began law school at Charlotte School of Law the day of my graduation from GWU, and completed my law degree in two years (instead of the typical three). During law school, I studied hard and strived to acquire the most experience possible so that I would be practice ready upon graduation.  The opportunities I gained included prosecuting criminal defendants through an externship with the Burke County District Attorney's Office, defending criminal defendants through Charlotte School of Law's Criminal Justice Clinic, and interning with Farmer & Morris, PLLC. I am blessed with a beautiful wife, Gabrielle Valentine, who is an attorney at Farmer & Morris, PLLC, in Rutherfordton, North Carolina.  In my free time, I enjoy helping with the youth group in my church, playing basketball and softball in our local church leagues, serving in the prison ministry, and spending time with my family.  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


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