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Washington, DC DUI-Drugs Charges

by | Mar 10, 2011

As a Washington, DC DUI lawyer, I sometimes speak with perspective clients who have been charged with DUI-drugs. They usually ask the following question: Can I get a DUI for driving on prescription medication if I have a valid prescription? Unfortunately the answer is generally yes.

The Washington DC, Code has three different charges that can be classified as “impaired driving.” A DC DWI charge requires a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 grams per milliliter of blood or greater.  This can be found by a breath test (breathalyzer), urine test, or a blood test. If you are suspected of driving while impaired, but do not test positive for alcohol, or were not given a BAC test, you may be charged with driving under the influence (DUI) of intoxicating liquor or drugs. In DC, a DUI can be charged based upon the evidence obtained from a standardized field sobriety test and/or the officer’s observations. As mentioned above, impairment may be from either alcohol or drugs. 

So what if I have a medical condition and a valid prescription for medication/drugs? The law does not distinguish between prescription drugs and illegal (street) drugs in the context of a DC DUI Charge. I once handled a case involving a woman who was driving home from a methadone clinic. She was in recovery from a heroin addiction, and she had been receiving methadone from a clinic with a valid prescription. She was pulled-over on suspicion of drunk driving. The fact that she has a prescription for the narcotics could not be used a defense because she was not being charged with possession of a controlled substance, she was charged with DUI-drugs. An analogy some Washington, DC DUI lawyers like to use when explaining this is that it is perfectly legal to drink vodka if you are over 21 but that doesn’t mean it’s legal to drink and drive. The police aren’t going to charge you with possession of alcohol; they will charge you with a DWI.

In case you were wondering, the third type of Washington, DC drunk driving charge is operating while impaired (OWI). Here the prosecutor is only required to prove that the defendant operated a vehicle while being impaired in any way by alcohol. This charge is the easiest to prove but a conviction for this offense carries the lightest sentence.