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Drug DUI in Pennsylvania

While most people think of the "drunk" driver who had a few too many beers when thinking about a DUI, drugs can just as easily cause the intoxication necessary to lead to a charge. Driving under the influence of drugs can lead to serious criminal penalties, including high fines, driver's license suspension, and prison time.

With the help of experienced criminal defense attorney David J. Cohen at your side every step of the way, you can know that you are represented by an attorney who understands Pennsylvania DUI laws and can defend your case.

Pennsylvania Drug DUI's

A drug DUI can come as a result of many different substances, both legal and illegal. Anytime a driver gets behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs, he or she risks a Pennsylvania drug DUI.

Pennsylvania's drugged driving law states that a person "may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle" when:

  • there is in the person's blood any amount of a Schedule I, II, or III controlled substance that has not been medically prescribed to the person, or metabolites of those substances; or
  • the individual is under the influence of a drug, or combination of drugs, which impairs the ability to safely drive, operate or be in actual physical control or movement of the vehicle.

Street Drugs

Use of illegal recreational drugs can lead to serious penalties, including drugs like:

  • cocaine or crack,
  • marijuana,
  • methamphetamine,
  • heroin,
  • ecstasy, or
  • bath salts.

Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs can also lead to a DUI, whether they are used with a valid prescription or without one:

  • Vicodin,
  • Tramadol,
  • Medical Marijuana, or
  • Percocet.

A valid prescription does not permit you to drive under the influence of these drugs in such a way that it makes you unsafe to drive. Officers will still charge you with DUI, even if you were legally taking the medication.

How DUI Drug is Detected

Unlike with alcohol, a breathalyzer test is not helpful in determining whether a driver is under the influence of drugs at the time of his or her arrest. Instead, officers must use other methods to determine if a person is intoxicated.

  • Blood Tests: Blood can be drawn from your body at the police station, but must be done through an approved process. Your blood can be tested to determine the presence and level of drugs in your body.
  • Urine Tests: Urine can be taken and tested to determine if there were drugs in your system at the time of your arrest, and while you were driving.

Field Sobriety Tests

In addition to the types of tests listed above, the most common way officers determine whether a person was intoxicated by drugs is through the use of field sobriety tests.

These tests include:

  • Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test: Officers test how your eyes respond when you are required to look to the far left and the far right, looking for certain signs of intoxication.
  • Walk and Turn Test: The driver is required to walk a certain number of steps forward in a straight line, one foot in front of the other. The person then turns and repeats the process.
  • One Leg Stand Test: The driver is required to stand on one leg to demonstrate balance if he or she can.

These tests and the observations officer's glean from them can be used against you in court.

Penalties for Drug DUI in Pennsylvania

Drug DUI cases are automatically charged at the Commonwealth's highest impairment tier. This means that the penalties you face may be severe if charged with this offense.

  • Third Tier, First Offense:
    • 3 days to a maximum of 6 months in jail;
    • $1,000 to a maximum of $5,000 fine;
    • 1-year driver's license suspension;
    • Attendance and completion of Alcohol Highway Safety School; and
    • Possible requirement of drug addiction treatment program.
  • Third Tier, Second Offense:
    • 90 days to a maximum of 5 years in jail;
    • $1,500 to maximum of $10,000 fine;
    • 18-month driver's license suspension;
    • Attendance and completion of Alcohol Highway Safety School;
    • Ignition interlock device on your vehicle for 1 year; and
    • Possible requirement of drug addiction treatment program.
  • Third Tier, Third Offense:
    • 1 year to a maximum of 5 years in jail;
    • $2,500 to maximum of $10,000 fine;
    • 18-month driver's license suspension;
    • Attendance and completion of Alcohol Highway Safety School;
    • Ignition interlock device on your vehicle for 1 year; and
    • Possible requirement of drug addiction treatment program

A drug DUI conviction will also be on your permanent record, which could make it difficult to gain and maintain employment. This will also affect other areas where your record may be checked such as:

  • applying for a special license (i.e. teaching license, real estate license, etc.);
  • applying for a loan;
  • landlord background checks;
  • credit checks; or
  • adoption background checks.

Defending Your Drug DUI Case

With the help of an experienced DUI attorney at your side, you can present defenses to protect your rights and defend your case.

Challenging Blood and Urine Tests

Specific levels of certain drugs are required to be proven by the prosecutor. If the prosecutor fails to prove these amounts, the evidence of intoxication may not be enough to prove a DUI. Also, the presence of a metabolite does not always mean you were intoxicated. This creates a "false positive" in many cases, which can be challenged in court.

Challenging Field Sobriety Tests

Field sobriety tests are notoriously inaccurate. This is true even when they are administered correctly. If they are administered incorrectly, any observations from them may be invalid. You can challenge these so-called "tests" to defend your case.

Suppressing Evidence

In many drug DUI cases, the drug itself is found in the vehicle or on your person through a search. If that search was unconstitutional, or the reason for the initial traffic stop was invalid, you can file a motion to keep out the evidence which was discovered as a result. This can result in the reduction or even dismissal of your charges.

Consult an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney

If you face charges of drug DUI, there are defenses which can be raised on your behalf. You have the right to challenge the prosecutor's allegations and defend your constitutional rights. Never assume you are guilty, or that there is no point in fighting back.

Criminal defense attorney David J. Cohen is devoted to representing the people of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and surrounding areas. Contact the David J. Cohen Law Firm, LLC today for a consultation.

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