Can You Get a DWI for Prescription Drugs in Minnesota?

Minnesota’s driving while impaired law doesn’t apply only to situations where a person was intoxicated by alcohol. It also concerns violations involving controlled substances. For you, this means that taking a prescription medication that affects your ability to operate a vehicle safely could result in a DWI charge.

The prosecutor will rely on various pieces of evidence in an attempt to prove that you were driving impaired because of a prescription drug. If you’re found guilty, you face the same penalties you would as if you had been charged with a DWI of alcohol.

For help fighting your DWI charge in Minneapolis, please contact Brockton D. Hunter P.A. at (612) 979-1112.

Driving While Impaired by Controlled or Intoxicating Substances

Operating a vehicle while impaired by a prescription drug is prohibited under Minnesota Statutes § 169A.20. The law provides that it’s illegal to drive or be in control of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

It also states that it’s a crime for a person to drive:

  • While under the influence of a controlled substance,
  • While under the influence of an intoxicating substance, or
  • With a Schedule I or II controlled substance in their body.

A controlled substance is any compound listed in Schedules I through V of Minnesota’s Schedule of Controlled Substances. The Schedule consists not only of illicit drugs but also legal medications prescribed by a physician.

But the law doesn’t simply prohibit impaired driving resulting from the consumption of a prescription drug. It also applies to over-the-counter medications, as they can fall under intoxicating substances. Minnesota defines an intoxicating substance as a drug or chemical that affects “audio, visual, or mental processes” (Minnesota Statutes § 169A.03).

Many prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications have a range of side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness,
  • Nausea, and
  • Poor coordination.

To drive safely, you must monitor your surroundings, be able to react to unexpected hazards, obey the rules of the road, and concentrate on driving tasks. The side effects resulting from prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications can impact your ability to operate your vehicle as a prudent person would. Thus, getting behind the wheel while impaired by them violates the state's DWI law.

In some cases, you need not be negatively affected by a prescription drug when driving to get a DWI. If you are found to have a Schedule I or II controlled substance in your system while operating a vehicle, you commit an offense. However, you may raise as a defense the fact that your doctor prescribed the medication to you, and you were using it as directed.

Evidence Used in a Prescription DWI Case

As with a DWI of alcohol, when the State brings a DWI of prescription medication case, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant was under the influence of a controlled or intoxicating substance. Unlike a DWI of alcohol, the prosecutor can’t rely on factors such as blood alcohol concentration (BAC) or field sobriety test (FST) performance to make their case.

BAC is a measure of the amount of alcohol in a person’s system. If you were alleged to have been under the influence of a prescription drug, the substance likely would not affect your BAC level.

Additionally, standardized FSTs are validated for detecting impairment by alcohol. However, an officer may still administer them and monitor your performance to determine whether you were intoxicated.

In an attempt to prove guilt, the prosecutor might present other evidence, such as:

  • Your driving behavior. The police officer who pulled you over may have done so because they saw you do something like weave between lanes or fail to stop at a stop sign. As you move to the side of the road as directed, the officer will observe your driving behavior to determine whether it suggests intoxication.
  • Your statements. After pulling you over, the officer will interview you. Statements you make, such as saying your medications are making you drowsy, may be used to show that you are impaired.
  • Chemical test results. A blood or breath analysis may not be used to generate a BAC level, but it can be used to detect a Schedule I or II controlled substance in your system.

The Penalties for a DWI of Drugs

Driving while impaired by a prescription drug is charged like driving while impaired by alcohol. A first-time violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or up to $1,000 in fines.

Brockton D. Hunter P.A. Is Here to Defend You

Driving while impaired by a prescription medication can lead to a criminal charge. Like any other alleged law violation, DWI of drugs must be aggressively fought. Our Minneapolis team is prepared to stand up for you.

Schedule a consultation by calling us at (612) 979-1112 or contacting us online today.