As most people know, driving while under the influence of alcohol is a crime in New Hampshire. What many people may not know, however, is that impaired driving caused by prescription drugs is considered a New Hampshire DUID, or driving under the influence of drugs.
But what exactly does “under the influence” mean? In New Hampshire and in every other state, driving with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or higher is considered prima facie evidence, or a presumption, that you are under the influence of alcohol. Studies on motorists and alcohol have indicated that most motorists at this level have impaired judgment, and have led legislators to codify this standard into law.
What happens, however, when a person takes a legally prescribed medication, operates a motor vehicle, and is stopped by a police officer for a traffic violation, erratic driving, or some other permissible reason and is suspected of being under the influence?
There are no breath devices, like an intoxilyzer, that can measure the level of, or detect the presence of, a certain drug in your body. Further, there is no uniform standard like there is for alcohol that indicates that a person is unlawfully under the influence of a drug that has impaired his or her driving conduct.
Also, drugs, unlike alcohol, can remain in your system for days or weeks at a time. Even if a drug was detected by a blood or urine test, there is no evidence when you first ingested it, or how long it has been in your system, or that it influenced your driving at the time you were stopped.
Further, impairment by a drug varies according to an individual's weight, height, the dosage taken, tolerance level, and if it was taken with other drugs.
Driving and Prescription Drugs
Driving under the influence of prescription drugs, or any illegal drug, is a criminal offense and is generally a misdemeanor unless there are aggravating circumstances accompanying the charge that can enhance it to an aggravated DWI or felony.
A police officer must first suspect you are under the influence after legally stopping you. Although you can be stopped for an equipment violation, the officer could use your driving conduct as a factor, such as the following:
- Weaving or drifting
- Crossing the center lines
- Driving too slowly
- Driving through red lights or stop signs
- Passed out
- Sudden braking or stopping
Although many drivers commit these offenses for various non-drug or alcohol reasons, an officer will undoubtedly suspect that drugs or alcohol is involved, especially if the offense occurs at night.
There are a wide variety of prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can affect your driving conduct. An antihistamine, for example, can induce fatigue in a motorist and affect reaction time. Most of these drugs contain written warnings against operating heavy machinery, which includes a motor vehicle.
Other prescription medications such as opiate analgesics are used for pain relief by acting on the central nervous system and can alter one's perception. Like its name implies, these drugs are either made from opium constituents or are produced synthetically.
An example is morphine, which can cause drowsiness, lethargy, mental clouding and delirium in some cases. It can also cause rapid or slow heartbeat or uncontrolled muscle movements. Oxycodone is in this category and can adversely affect your driving conduct. Benzodiazepines can also affect your ability to drive safely.
Drugs such as diazepam, Librium, Ativan, Restoril, and Xanax are in this category and are widely prescribed for reducing anxiety, depression, and insomnia. They also affect the central nervous system and can induce drowsiness and confusion. These drugs can intensify the intoxicating effect of alcohol, so even a breath test result of below 0.08 percent does not relieve you of a possible drug impaired driving charge.
Any of these drugs can lead to a DWI charge and conviction if it is proved that you had the drug in your system at the time of you were driving and it impaired your judgment and ability to drive.
Determining Drug-Impaired Driving in New Hampshire
New Hampshire has a program designed to train officers to detect motorists of DUI and prescription drugs or illegal drugs, and have certified them to become Drug Recognition Experts (DRE).
An officer trained DRE will use certain criteria to determine the following:
- Whether the suspect is impaired
- Whether the impairment is related to a drug, alcohol or medical condition
- If a drug is suspected, what category or categories of drugs are causing the impairment
The officer will also conduct a series of tests to assess their suspect:
1. Breath test–If no alcohol is indicated, the officer continues the assessment.
2. Interview and observations of the suspect's demeanor, speech, coordination, whether he or she admits to taking drugs, and their driving conduct.
3. Preliminary exam–The officer may take the suspect's pulse and conduct an eye exam such as the HGN, or horizontal gaze nystagmus, by tracking his or her eyes and looking for jerking of the pupils. Pupil size and reaction to light are also tested.
4. Psychophysical tests–These can be standard field sobriety coordination tests such as finger-to-nose, Walk and Turn, One Leg Stand, and other balance tests.
5. Blood pressure, temperature and pulse are taken for elevated or depressed vital signs.
6. The officer will usually request from the suspect a urine, blood or saliva test for a lab analysis.
Based on the totality of these and other signs, the DRE-trained officer can usually testify and offer an opinion that the suspect is impaired and which category of drug or drugs may have contributed to the suspect's impairment.
Prescription Drug Defense
An officer who is DRE certified is not a doctor or pharmacologist. An officer is not able to distinguish between a suspect who is suffering extreme anxiety from being stopped and detained by a police officer, and someone under the influence. Further, a person who has a hyperactive, or garrulous personality may appear to be under a certain category of drugs.
To adequately defend you against a DUID charge, you need an NH DUID attorney with the experience and training in this area. Ryan Russman has multiple certifications from the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) and possesses the training and knowledge that will ensure that your rights and defenses are protected.
Here are just some of the certifications that Mr. Russman possesses:
• NHTSA/IACP Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Practitioner
The student in this seminar is trained how to effectively administer at least three standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) that includes HGN testing (horizontal gaze nystagmus), or tracking the eyes and looking for jerking; the Walk and Turn test, or divided attention test that requires the suspect to listen to and follow instructions to perform simple coordination tests; and the One-Leg Test, also a divided attention and balance test.
• NHTSA/IACP Standardized Field Sobriety Testing Instructor
This is a 40-hour classroom instruction and practical application class that trains a person to become an instructor in administering the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST). It has a theory component as well and is only open to those who have passed a NHTSA certified SFST practitioner course.
• NHTSA/IACP Drug Evaluation Certification
Ryan Russman has completed the same DRE certification course taken by New Hampshire police officers as related above that they use to assess and arrest suspects of possible drug impaired driving.
These are just a few of the certifications Mr. Russman possesses, He also has training in forensic chromatography, advanced instruction on roadside impaired driving enforcement, and has completed a multi-device breath testing mega-course. These courses have increased Mr. Russman's already extensive knowledge in the latest developments in blood, urine, and breath testing and how to mount an effective defense at trial.
Ryan Russman is a New Hampshire board-certified DWI attorney and can defend you against the biases of a police officer and any failure to follow the required protocol by a DRE certified officer.
Mr. Russman also possesses the knowledge required to effectively challenge a breath, urine or blood test, and understands the pharmacology and medical issues associated with drug prescription cases.