Our Birmingham DUI defense lawyers have seen a growing number of cases involving clients who were arrested for being behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs, as opposed to alcohol.
There are a number of reasons for this, but it's important to note that you need a good attorney whenever you are facing a charge of driving under the influence — regardless of the alleged substance.
Often, a skilled lawyer can work to help negotiate down charges or even have them dropped before you ever set foot in a courtroom. Every situation is going to be different. But when it comes to DUI cases involving drugs, prosecutors tend to have a tougher time proving their case.
That's because proving someone is intoxicated as a result of drugs is more difficult than proving alcohol intoxication. With alcohol, first of all, it stays in your system for a relatively short period of time. So if you take a breathalyzer test or have to give a blood sample, and those results return positive for alcohol, investigators can be fairly certain that you consumed within a short time frame (or can at least make the argument). The legal limit in Alabama is a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent.
Drugs are different. First, many drugs stay in your system quite a bit longer. Marijuana, for example, may be in your bloodstream for several weeks after consumption. So even if you test positive, that doesn't necessarily mean you were intoxicated at the time you were stopped or arrested.
Secondly, not many law enforcement officials are specially trained to detect a person who is under the influence of drugs (and we might argue no such training is possible). Alcohol impairment has some very specific indicators, such as slurred speech, glassy eyes and trouble with balance. And the odor of alcohol is often a decisive part of a prosecutor's case.
Drugs can have a varied effect depending on the person and the individual's tolerance. Thirdly, many drugs are taken legally with a doctor's prescription. Some warn patients not to drive or operate heavy machinery immediately after consumption. But sometimes, people are arrested for impairment when they have done nothing except take the drug as directed by their doctor.
The California Office of Traffic Safety recently conducted a study that showed that drug impairment was an issue for twice as many drivers as alcohol impairment. Of the 1,300 drivers anonymously and voluntarily tested over the course of several weekends in various cities, 14 percent tested positive for drugs (including prescription medications and certain over-the-counter substances), while just over 7 percent tested positive for alcohol.
The researchers contend that this is an obvious sign that law enforcement agencies need to set their sights on drugged drivers. But again, testing positive for a drug does not necessarily mean a driver was impaired. In order to get a conviction, prosecutors have to prove that not only did you consume the drug, but that you did so in a manner that caused you to be impaired while behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.
Cases like these involve a host of legal nuances, which is why having an experienced attorney to represent you is so critical.
If you have been arrested for DUI in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Survey of California Drivers Shows 14% Testing Positive for Drugs, Nov. 19, 2012, By Chris Cochran, California Office of Traffic Safety
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