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DUI for Xanax? Really?
December 8, 2012 6:18 PM   Subscribe

Will a DUI charge for Xanax stand in court?

To begin, I know YANAL and that princess isn't without fault.

That said, here's my issue--Mrs. Bestia, a busy grad student, is a gentle soul that is extremely easily rattled by the slightest of challenges that arise throughout the day. She has been seeking treatment for anxiety recently and it seems to be doing her a great deal of good. However, the medication she takes for her own sanity seems to have backfired. She took her prescribed dose of xanax and klonopin (which she has been taking consistently for several months) before going to work on Friday. After a five hour shift, she started driving home when a tire blew out. She got off the freeway and, trying too hard to stay out of traffic, rolled up onto the shoulder and messed up her car. Cops showed up shortly thereafter, she got so nervous that she couldn't successfully complete field sobriety tests, and she was charged with a DUI.

Now I understand that "under the influence" is a very inclusive term, but can being under the influence of prescription medication you've taken several hours prior really justify a DUI? Google searches suggest both alternatives have some validity: (1) she shouldn't have been driving (fair enough, though logistically challenging in that she takes this medication every single day), or (2) the DUI charge is bogus and should be fought.

She's already a stress case and it's almost finals week so this was a very unwelcome development that we're trying to put behind us as quickly as possible. If you have any relevant experiences to share or can recommend a lawyer in the San Diego/Encinitas area with prescription drug DUI experience, it would be extraordinarily helpful. I love you, AskMeFi.
posted by BestiaDeAmor to Law & Government (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Presumably the field sobriety test is not the evidence that will be used against her. Did they do bloodwork?
posted by unSane at 6:26 PM on December 8, 2012


can being under the influence of prescription medication you've taken several hours prior really justify a DUI?

well the information sheets for Xanax and Klonopin say:
Xanax may cause drowsiness, dizziness, light-headedness, or blurred vision. Do not drive, operate machinery, or do anything else that could be dangerous until you know how you react to Xanax.
and
Klonopin may cause drowsiness, dizziness, lightheadedness, blurred vision, or difficulty with coordination. These effects may be worse if you take it with alcohol or certain medicines. Use Klonopin with caution. Do not drive or perform other possibly unsafe tasks until you know how you react to it.
so coupled with failing a field sobriety test I suspect there's reasonable grounds.

(1) she shouldn't have been driving (fair enough, though logistically challenging in that she takes this medication every single day)

"it would be logistically challenging" isn't really a viable legal defence strategy.
posted by russm at 6:32 PM on December 8, 2012 [6 favorites]


unsane--Yes, a blood test was taken but she says she was not briefed as to the results.

russm--You're probably confirming what I feared, but I appreciate the info.
posted by BestiaDeAmor at 6:41 PM on December 8, 2012


It isn't clear to me whether her problems with driving and dealing with the police were due to anxiety or due to the side-effects of the medication. It sounds like the DUI isn't bogus - it was a reasonable for the police to make but that doesn't mean that she is guilty. If she wants to try to avoid the DUI (and might well be worth spending some money to avoid it) she should talk to a lawyer who can advise her on how she can provide the judge with convincing evidence that the problem was anxiety and not medication.
posted by metahawk at 6:45 PM on December 8, 2012


You would also want to find out from a real lawyer if she might still be guilty of reckless driving, even if there is no adverse effects from her medication.
posted by metahawk at 6:56 PM on December 8, 2012


I would think avoiding a DUI charge would be well worth the several thousand it will cost for a lawyer. Get a real legal opinion. Fight it if you can. Who know what effect a DUI conviction will have on her future.
posted by saradarlin at 6:56 PM on December 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


IAAL, and though IANYL, I can tell you that it really matters what state you're in here. In many states, OWI/DWI/OUI actually means "influence of alcohol." In many states, it's illegal to drive drunk but not illegal to drive high. My current state, Indiana, is one such state. In others, like California, it's illegal to do either.

See California Vehicle Code 312. That defines "drug" as basically anything that would affect your ability to drive. And the code section which makes DUI an offense makes no meaningful distinction between drugs and alcohol.

As a result, "DUID," "Driving Under the Influence of Drugs," is actually an increasingly common charge in California, and having a prescription is, as I understand it no defense. If you're taking something which affects your ability to drive, then in California it is illegal for you to drive.

Your friend needs to hire a criminal defense attorney right away. This DUI charge does not sound bogus.
posted by valkyryn at 7:01 PM on December 8, 2012 [12 favorites]


The charge is not bogus, and she needs an attorney to determine whether this is a charge she wants to fight, and to determine what legal options are available to her. Talking to an attorney immediately is very important, as the passage of time may foreclose options that are otherwise available.

I would encourage you to anonymize this question. IAAL, IANYL, TINLA.
posted by Happydaz at 7:48 PM on December 8, 2012


Does her prescribing physician know that she drives while under the influence of both drugs?

Klonopin, at even the lowest therapeutic doses, is a powerful sedative/anxiolytic/hypnotic drug of the benzodiazepine class with an unusually long half-life. It can stay in your system for up to 50 hours after taking it. Xanax, also a benzodiazepine, is fairly potent as well, and if you've taken both of them, 1), you're going to be heavily sedated, and 2), you should definitely not be driving anytime soon. They both act upon the GABA chemical infrastructure in the brain, which is the same system that alcohol affects; GABA plays an important role in mediating states of relaxation. So, broadly speaking but with the relevant neurochemistry in mind, what she was doing was not so qualitatively different from driving drunk, at least in terms of the potential danger she posed to other drivers and herself. You both should understand that. I'm sure that she's not a bad or irresponsible person in general, but those are the facts. If she failed a field sobriety test, she could have caused an accident.

It's actually kind of lucky that this happened without anyone getting hurt. Think about that.

Yes, this is serious and not frivolous, and she should probably get a lawyer. Those drugs are controlled, but that fact alone doesn't establish that someone who has obtained them legally cannot break the law while under their influence.
posted by clockzero at 8:03 PM on December 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


[Do not start a derail about these prescriptions, period, thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:06 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


She needs a lawyer, ASAP, (almost) no matter what the cost is. DUIs can have a terrible, long-term impact that is far greater than what you'll pay upfront to avoid one.

That said: in some states, with alcohol, you can get a DUI for blowing below .08 but still failing field sobriety tests. So those may not be, as may have been suggested above, no big deal.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:10 PM on December 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lawyer. really. IANAL. Did her physician or pharmacist advise her not to drive? Many meds say don't drive, and many people drive, which is sort of like clothes that say Dry Clean Only, just to cover their asses. She was tattled from equipment failure on the car, meds are prescribed, so it's complicated, which is why she needs a Lawyer.
posted by theora55 at 10:16 PM on December 8, 2012


IAAL as well, though of course I am not yours. Attorneys who do virtually nothing except for DUI cases exist, and they are usually worth their weight in copper.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:49 AM on December 9, 2012


IANAL. But I've had a lot of DUI cases described to me by people that know this stuff. Your friend's case is very complicated. If she does not have a lawyer when she shows up in court, she's most likely hosed. Unfortunately, it's that simple.
posted by azpenguin at 7:33 AM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good lord get a lawyer right away. Don't listen to people on the internet. The lawyer will tell you what options you have and how expensive it will be for those options are. I am a lawyer, I am not your lawyer. Time is a wasting on this.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:43 AM on December 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Get a lawyer NOW! Don't even think not to; you do not want this on your record.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:00 AM on December 9, 2012


Thanks all for the input. We'll contact some lawyers first thing in the morning.
posted by BestiaDeAmor at 11:21 AM on December 9, 2012


Data point. Suffering from dementia, my dad "stole" the van overnight and wrecked it -- then drove the wrecked van into town where its completely borked front end wobbled and weaved, leading a cop to pull him over for drunk driving. Drug tests found neither alcohol in his system nor the painkillers he had driven to the pharmacy to get; my mother had been rationing them for him, and he believed he was "out". Thankfully, the new prescription had, unopened, found its way so far under the front seat the cops did not find it, so they didn't even bring in pain medication to the investigation. Anyway, those drug tests DID find that he had 25x the medicinal level of guaifenesin. Which is the active ingredient in cough syrup. It's not clear that the cough syrup, even at that level, would have debilitated him, at least not any more than his dementia-addled judgement was already, but that's what he was charged with under Wisconsin law. In the end the judge took compassion on him, because he insisted on arguing his own case even after we had orally agreed to a plea deal; my dad basically utterly incompetently and confusedly cross-examined the sheriff's deputy (who had investigated the site of the wreck) and, seeing his mental condition made clear, the drunk driving charge was dismissed.

But drugs can and do lead to impaired driving charges. My dad, you could say, lucked out.
posted by dhartung at 11:58 AM on December 9, 2012


those drug tests DID find that he had 25x the medicinal level of guaifenesin...

let the record be shown that guaifenesin, while an active ingredient of many cough syrups, is a mucus thinner added as an expectorant and won't make you high. the active ingredient which might lead to a DUI is dextromethorphan.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:34 PM on December 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


He did not have dextro in his system. We had stopped letting him use the Tussin DM exactly for that reason. After this we didn't let him use the Tussin CF by himself, either.

Anyway, we had enough on our plate and it wasn't a problem in the end. I don't think it affected his judgement, that was all the dementia ("I stopped in the middle of the road because the stop sign was lying there and I was going to pick it up"). If it had been different circumstances we might have argued the lack of (in normal circumstances) psychoactivity.
posted by dhartung at 10:23 PM on December 9, 2012


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