Common Misconceptions about Drug-Related DUI Charges

Interviewer:  What are some common misconceptions in regards to drugs and DUIs?

Matthew Nebeker: Well, yeah.  I think that one of the biggest ones is, as far as a prescription goes, people think as long as the doctor prescribed it to me, they always say “Hey, why did they arrest me?  My doctor prescribed this to me.  I’ve been taking this for years.  I’m used to it.”

Some People Are Unaware of the Impairing Effects of Prescription Medication

Some drivers don’t realize is that it does impair their driving, in some cases.  Sometimes it makes them so they’re not safe to be out on the roads.  That’s why they put the warning labels on the majority of prescriptions.  “Do not operate heavy machinery.  This has the effect of making you drowsier.”

Sometimes they disregard that.  Or they’ll take it and planning on going to bed and someone will give them a call.  A friend or family member needs something or needs a ride home from the bar.  They’ll head out, forgetting they’ve taken their medication.  While they’re out there, the medication starts kicking in.  They get stopped and next thing you know they’re arrested for DUI.

Street Drugs Tend to Leave the System Faster but More Overdoses Are Attributed to Them

With the street drugs and drug abuse, there are a lot of different effects that take place.  People think that they quickly leave the system, and some of them do. But what often happens, that I’m seeing, is they don’t.  They overdose.

I’ve seen a DUI, for example, when the driver used too much cocaine while he was driving down the road.  He started to pass out and his friend got the car pulled over.  He was basically having a heart attack right there on the side of the road.

The police got there quickly and did some medical procedures on him.  They revived him.  When the officer asked, “What’s going on?  What happened here?” The other people around said, “Well, he was snorting cocaine,” and they had to tell that to the medical personnel to help get him the medical help that he needed.  They needed to know what was wrong with him to treat him effectively.

I guess the biggest misconception is that, “The drugs don’t impair my driving.”  Whether it is street drugs or the prescription drugs, I think the basis of contention is, “They’re okay.  They don’t impair my driving.”

Drivers Are Not Legally Obligated to Perform the Field Sobriety Tests but Face Driver’s License Sanctions for Refusing a Chemical Test

Interviewer: Are the drivers obligated to undergo the field sobriety tests?

Matthew Nebeker:  No one is obligated to do the field sobriety test.  They do need to undergo a chemical test, or else they could have sanctions against their license.  The chemical test is the blood test, the breath test, and the urine test.

Interviewer:  Will they do either/or, or will they do both, the urine or blood draw?

Matthew Nebeker: In most cases, they will do the blood, but I’ve had a lot where they do both, urine and blood.  In most cases, they’ll just do the blood.

Interviewer: If someone refuses the Breathalyzer, are they able to refuse the blood draw as well?  Is that going to be mandatory for them?

Matthew Nebeker: Like I said before, I would refuse the field sobriety test, but on the breath test I would definitely take that, because here’s what’s going to happen.  If you don’t take it, most officers will go get a warrant to take it from you.

Police Can Now Obtain E-Warrants, Via Email to Legally Compel You to Undergo a Chemical Test

If it’s an alcohol case, when you refuse the breath test there’s consequences that go along with that.  The police just go get what’s called an e-Warrant.  Basically, they e-mail the judge a warrant.  The judge reviews it and e-mails them back an order saying, “Okay, you can take the blood.”

If you refuse a breath test, they’re just going to get a warrant to take your blood.  The same premise applies if they request a blood test.  If you refuse, they’re just going to obtain the warrant.  Then you have to have to deal with those extra sanctions for the refusal and they have the evidence anyway.  It’s better to avoid those extra sanctions if they’re going to get the evidence eventually.

I always say submit to the chemical test, the blood test, the breath test, but I personally would not do the field sobriety test.  I don’t believe in them.  I don’t think that they’re a useful tool.  I think they’re too subjective.

Over-the-Counter Medication

Matthew Nebeker: There are cases concerning the impairment effect of over-the-counter drugs.  I’ve seen two of these here recently in the last few months and it’s kind of still the same protocol.  I wouldn’t do the field sobriety test, but the officer may believe that you are under the influence of something.  If he asks you to do the chemical test, the breath or the blood test, then I would certainly do it.

What I’ve seen in a couple of the tests is the way that it comes back from the lab is this is pinpoints a particular substance.  It’s commonly found in over-the-counter cough medications.  Then it goes on to say that its effects may be similar to those of alcohol.

We still kind of have to treat them the same but, in my opinion, that’s a tough case for a prosecutor. This is because they have to show that they were incapable of safely operating their vehicle.  There’s nothing illegal about taking cough medication.  The field sobriety tests aren’t going to show that they’re incapable, so it has to be some kind of driving pattern.

Interviewer: Is there any particular case that was unique that you’d like to share?

Case History: Drug-Related Charge Attributed to Heroin

Matthew Nebeker:  I have handled a case that involved heroin.

It is a very dangerous drug.  It was another kind of an overdose situation.  It was actually some young girls wanted to experiment.  They were roommates and college students.  I don’t know about the experimenting part, how people just come to experiment with heroin.  This is the way this happened.

They injected heroin and one of the young girls had an overdose.  I guess her eyes rolled in the back of her head and she was unresponsive. The other girl didn’t know what to do.

She had to call paramedics.  She had to call the first responders out to save her roommate’s life.  In that process, they had to ask her what happened.  She had to honestly disclose the drug that was ingested, so they were charged with felony use of heroin.  The girl recovered from the overdose but it was kind of a sad case.

It was just a tough case to encounter.  These girls had a lot going for them. They were in college with their lives ahead of them and they could have experienced great loss by experimenting with a dangerous drug.

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