Legal Drugs Can Lead to DWI Charges

Drugs don’t have to be illegal to result in DWI charges in Minnesota. Although the consumption of medications that can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a physician is not against the law, many of these types of drugs can cause significant side effects that can impair a person’s ability to safely, and legally operate a motor vehicle. When a driver becomes impaired due to the effects of legal medications, he or she can be arrested and charged with DWI in the same manner that a drunk or illegally drugged driver can.

The Elements of a Typical DWI in Minnesota

In Minnesota, a person can be found guilty of a DWI when:

  • The individual operated a motor vehicle, and
  • At the same time, the person was under the influence of any drug, alcohol or combination of such that impaired his or her ability to drive safely.

Under the Influence of Medication

Many types of prescription medications and over the counter substances can impact an individual’s mental and physical abilities. Cold medicines, sleep aids, cough syrups, painkillers, muscle relaxers, mental health medications and other behavior modifying substances are products that commonly produce side effects. In some cases, these side effects can linger for an extended period of time. And when other medications or alcohol are consumed as well, the effects can be intensified.

In Minnesota, a zero tolerance law is observed. This means that drivers are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle when any amount even a trace) of narcotics or other specified drugs are in their systems. In a study reported in 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that although drunk driving has decreased significantly in recent years, drugged driving continues to escalate. According to the report, about 16 percent of nighttime drivers have some type of impairing drug (either illegal substances, prescription medications or over the counter medicines) in their systems.

Side Effects that Can Impair a Person’s Ability to Drive

Although it is recommended that individuals refrain from operating motor vehicles when taking new drugs or new doses of medications until they see how the medications react with their bodies, many drivers tend to throw caution to the wind. In addition to reading warning labels, speak to their prescribing physicians and pharmacists, and watch for common symptoms that may indicate that their driving abilities could be impaired. A few side effects that can indicate that driving should be avoided include:

  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Drowsiness or extreme fatigue
  • Confusion or the inability to focus or pay attention
  • Delayed reactions, poor coordination or slowed movement
  • Blurred vision
  • Slowed or slurred speech

When alertness, judgment, motor skills or concentration are affected by the consumption of medications, individuals should steer clear of motor vehicle operation until symptoms cease.

Evaluating a Driver’s Behavior

While it can sometimes be difficult for law enforcement officials to identify and assess a driver’s level of impairment, there are common indicators that can lead to further investigation and possibly even arrest. These include:

  • Performing reckless maneuvers like passing without allowing adequate distance between vehicles, taking curves or turns at high speeds, or stopping or starting too quickly
  • Weaving within a lane for failing to maintain a single lane
  • Driving the wrong direction on a one-way street
  • Exhibiting slow reactions to road hazards
  • Failing to observe traffic signals and street signs

When a Driver Has Legal Drugs in His or Her System

Although many states are putting law enforcement officials through special training to help them identify the signs of drug impairment and are hoping for better technology that offers enhanced detection, at this time there is no accurate system to determine when a driver’s actions are a result of medical impairment. Because of this, convicting individuals of driving while impaired by drugs is often more difficult than convicting someone who is legally drunk. Unfortunately, these challenges also mean that many individuals who are not actually impaired by the consumption of prescription or over the counter medications suffer the consequences of a DWI conviction. In Minnesota, a DWI attorney might use a variety of defenses to help defendants avoid being convicted of driving while impaired. Some of them include:

  • Rebutting the possible side effects of legally consumed medications
  • Denying the driver’s knowledge of possible impairment when warning labels are not present
  • Disputing the driver’s level of impairment, especially when the medication was taken hours or even a day or so prior to the charge

The Consequences of Driving Under the Influence of Legal Drugs

In Minnesota, an individual who is convicted of driving under the influence of legal drugs faces the same penalties as someone who is guilty of driving while impaired by alcohol or illegal substances. In addition to possible jail time, those convicted can face significant fines and may even lose their driving privileges.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

What to Do If You Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense

Confidential informants may provide integral information to help build criminal investigations, but how reliable is that information when they are receiving payment for their services? To protect them, state law requires the identity of informants be kept confidential. For those facing criminal charges, however, this creates challenges in questioning the accuracy and validity of the information given at trial.
Stay calm and compose after getting accused of a crime but not charged in Minneapolis, MN. Do not discuss the facts of your case with anyone, including your relatives and family members. Hire a criminal defense attorney with a demonstrated record of winning cases like yours. Your attorney will discuss your rights, guide you on how to cooperate with law enforcement within the legal boundaries, and build a solid defense strategy to fight the charges you could face in the future.
Expungement and sealing of records in Minnesota affect how your criminal history appears to government agencies and the public. The main difference between the two legal actions is that expungement permanently removes past arrests, criminal charges, or convictions from private and public databases, while sealing hides the criminal record from the public. Courts, government entities, and law enforcement agencies can access sealed criminal records.