Could I Be Accused of a DUI for Using Legal Substances?

We all know that driving drunk is both highly dangerous and highly illegal. Driving while under the influence of illegal drugs is just as problematic. What is less often discussed is the fact that even legal substances could result in a DUI arrest.

Driving under the influence of drugs is often called a “DUID” charge. If you are high on cocaine, heroin, meth, or even marijuana, you could be accused of this crime. This is a perfectly reasonable legal standard, as someone on these drugs can make poor, dangerous choices on the road.

The problem lies in the legal standards used to make a DUID arrest. In this article, we will explore how cops charge and arrest people for a DUID. We will also explain how these standards could be used against you, even if you used a perfectly legal substance with mild chemical effects.

Police Use Their Own Discretion in a DUID Charge

It’s much harder to find solid, direct evidence to accuse someone of driving high than it is for their driving drunk. Alcohol use often leaves a distinct odor on someone’s breath. There are immediate ways to estimate someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC), such as a breathalyzer test.

Drug use can be much harder to detect. Depending on the narcotic in question, there may be no outward evidence of use, such as a smell. There are also no breathalyzers that can indicate the amount of cocaine or methamphetamines in your system.

Therefore, police must make their best guess about whether you are high. They may look at your pupils for dilation. They will judge your movements and behavior, discerning whether they think you are under the influence. Beyond that, there really isn’t much evidence to go on.

The problems with this system are easily noticed, the moment you think of them. Someone could be ill, and the cops confuse their behavior for drug influence. A diabetic whose sugar is low, for instance, may appear drunk and disoriented. Some suffering from severe allergies or a sinus infection can be slow and foggy-headed.

Sometimes, a person’s natural behavior can be mistaken for being high. Most of us have met a few eccentrics in our lives, people who are just a little “off” but perfectly functional. If a cop pulls this person over, they could jump to conclusions and accuse this oddball of being high.

Furthermore, cops can use their judgement to decide whether you are under the influence of a legal drug or other substance. If they believe you are too hyper, they could use your cup of trendy coffee against you. If they think you are too sedate, they could arrest you for the kava tea in your cupholder. You may be on prescribed medicine, and if the cops think it affected your driving, they can charge you with a DUID.

Chemical Tests Are Unreliable

Blood alcohol tests are generally reliable. Someone draws your blood, and they can easily test it to see the percentage of alcohol floating around in it. From there, police have an easy-to-understand formula for charging you with a DUI. If your BAC is above .08 while you’re driving, they can make an arrest.

Chemical testing for narcotics is far more nebulous. For one thing, cops can make an arrest if only trace amounts of a drug show up in your screening. This is a simply unfair standard. Blood tests can show lingering amounts of a narcotic taken days before, meaning the driver was sober at the time of the arrest.

Furthermore, chemical tests don’t cover every possible drug. They look for most of the major, common street drugs, but there are many more narcotics that are left out of the testing. This means that, if you were on a prescription drug that doesn’t show up on tests, the cops will simply fall back on their judgement to charge you with a DUID. They could also simply assume that you were high on something that wouldn’t normally appear in testing.

Tennessee DUI Penalties

Tennessee charges all crimes of driving under the influence the same, regardless of whether the intoxication came from alcohol or drugs.

Penalties rise with each offense:

  • 1st offense: fine between $350 and $1,500; license suspension up to 1 year
  • 2nd offense: fine between $600 and $1,500; license suspension up to 2 years; jail time between 45 days and 1 year
  • 3rd offense: fine between $1,100 and $10,000; license suspension up to 3 years; jail time between 120 days and 1 year
  • 4th offense or more: Class E felony; fine between $3,000 and $15,000; license suspension of at least 5 years; jail time between 150 days or longer

If an intoxicated driver has a minor in the car, their fines can go another $1,000 higher, and they could face 30 more days in jail.

If driving under the influence leads to an accident, charges and fines can become even more severe.

Getting Help from an Attorney

If you’ve been charged with a DUID, call an attorney right away. Don’t accept these accusations, and don’t take these charges lying down.

DUID allegations can be easy to debunk, with a skilled lawyer. Your attorney can investigate the nature of the allegations. If the charge is based solely on an officer’s opinion of your behavior, your attorney can create doubt in that scenario. The officer may have jumped to a conclusion, assuming that your coffee, kava, or prescriptions impaired your driving. Without hard evidence backing up this claim, your attorney may be able to shoot down this allegation.

Reach out to our firm if you’ve been accused of driving under the influence. We can give you a free consultation, and we may be able to start preparing your defense right away. Just call (931) 361-4477, or contact us online.

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