Driving under the influence of validly prescribed drugs is not illegal in Utah, but for whatever reason law enforcement does not always remember that.
Utah Law On Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Drugs
A lot of people take prescribed drugs every day. They wake up, get ready, take their prescriptions, and go to work. Each of those people is driving under the influence of a drug and every one of those people runs the risk of getting arrested for DUI.
In Utah, even if you are taking validly prescribed drugs you are still limited in when and how you can drive with drugs in your system. It is prohibited to be “under the influence of…any drug…to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.” So when it comes to DUI and prescription drugs the fact that the drug is in a driver’s system is not what matters; it’s whether that drug affected the driver so much that prevented the driver from driving safely.
How to Prove “Incapable of Safely Operating a Vehicle”
It is the prosecutor’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a driver was under the influence of a prescription drug to such a degree as to render him incapable of safely operating a vehicle, but how does a prosecutor do this? Ultimately, the jury decides whether this standard is met and the prosecutor has to bring forth evidence to the jury to consider.
Like an alcohol DUI in Utah, law enforcement will conduct different tests on the driver to try to determine impairment. Those tests include field sobriety tests and chemical tests. The jury gets to consider all of those tests, how they were conducted, and the results. A chemical test can only show that a drug was present in a defendant’s blood; the test cannot show whether someone was impaired or incapable of safely driving a vehicle. Thus, the prosecutor has to rely on other tests like the field sobriety tests and the totality of the circumstances surrounding the defendant’s arrest. For example, if the defendant couldn’t walk straight that evidence can be presented to the jury to determine whether they think he was impaired enough to be convicted of a DUI.
Proving impairment is not an easy task. As defense attorneys it is our job to discredit the prosecutor’s case through tough cross-examination of the witnesses. We have to poke holes through the officer’s tests. When officer’s conduct field sobriety tests they have to follow very specific instructions. They hardly ever follow all of the instructions and there are always things they should have done better.
DUIs for valid prescription drugs warrant going to trial more so than other DUIs because of the difficulty in proving “incapable of safely operating a vehicle.” Give us a call if you’re facing these charges. 801.618.1334.