An individual commits drugged driving when they are stopped or arrested for driving a vehicle while under the influence of an illegal drug. Driving while intoxicated (DWI) and Driving Under the influence (DUI) laws make it illegal for an individual to drive while under the influence of certain controlled substances.
These laws include illegal drugs and some legal drugs or substances. Many fatal drunk driving cases involve a mix of prescription drugs or alcohol and an illegal drug.
What is the Difference Between DWI and DUI?
The title of the offense may vary between states but it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by any type of intoxicant. DWI often refers to driving while intoxicated. It is generally used to describe an individual operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated by alcohol, also called drunk diving.
The term DUI is used to refer to an individual driving under the influence. It typically describes operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs. Although DWI and DUI are often used interchangeably, certain states classify DWI and DUI separately and the terms describe different circumstances or charges.
In many states, a DUI charge is the lesser of the two charges and indicates a lesser degree of impairment. A DWI charge usually indicates a higher level of intoxication or impairment and is, therefore, often taken more seriously.
Both DWI and DUI offenses are considered to be criminal charges. In some states, the offenses are known by other acronyms, such as:
- Operating Under the Influence (OUI);
- Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence (OVI);
- Operating While Intoxicated (OWI);
- Driving While Ability Impaired (DWAI);
- Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant (OVUII); or
- Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants (DUII).
It is important to note that an individual can be charged with DWI or DUI even if they are not actually driving the vehicle at the time. If they have the keys in their possession and are in actual physical control of the vehicle, even if they are just sleeping and the car is not running, they can still be charged with the offense.
What Drugs are Usually Involved in DUI Cases?
There are many drugs that are involved in DUI cases. The most common drug involved in drugged driving cases is marijuana. This may be because marijuana use, especially medical marijuana use, is legal in certain areas. However, just like alcohol, an individual cannot operate a motor vehicle if they are under the influence of marijuana.
Similarly, abuse of legal substances may also be considered an offense in terms of drugged driving. Other drugs that are commonly used in the commission of drugged driving and are often found in an individual’s system following a vehicle accident or DUI arrest include:
- Powerful over-the-counter drugs; or
- Various prescription drugs such as oxycontin.
Using drugs while operating a motor vehicle can be particularly dangerous if the drug makes the driver lose consciousness, such as heroin or other opiate-based pain medications. Additionally, drugs that alter an individual’s consciousness to the point they have difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy, such as certain hallucinogens and stimulants, may cause serious problems for drivers.
What are the Legal Penalties for Drugged Driving?
The penalties for drugged driving may be just as severe or even more severe than those for alcohol-based DUI offenses. The penalty may depend on factors, including:
- The type of drugs involved;
- Whether an individual was injured during the drugged driving;
- Whether the drugged driving resulted in any property damage; and
- Whether it is the individual’s first offense or a repeat offense.
The penalties for drugged driving vary by jurisdiction. If the crime is a misdemeanor, a conviction may result in jail time up to one year or criminal fines. In some cases, a misdemeanor sentence may be lessened using alternative sentencing options, such as community service or a driving class.
If the crime is a felony, a conviction may result in a year or more in prison and heftier fines. If a drugged driving accident causes death or serious injury to another individual, it will likely be charged as a felony.
What is a Felony Traffic Offense?
Most traffic offenses are classified as minor infractions that result in a traffic ticket or a small fine. More serious traffic offenses are classified as misdemeanors or felonies.
As noted above, a felony traffic offense may occur if it results in an injury to an individual, destruction of property, or creates a threat of injury to an individual or a threat of destruction of property. The most common types of traffic felony offenses are DUI-related charges.
Felonies are usually considered to be the most serious crime in a jurisdiction. Most states differ regarding what types of traffic offenses are classified as felonies. Most jurisdictions, however, classify the following violations as felonies:
- Vehicular homicide or manslaughter;
- Repeat or multiple DUI convictions;
- Other repeat offenses, including repeatedly driving without a license;
- Certain types of reckless driving, including racing or other violations that cause injury or property damage;
- Leaving the scene of an accident, called a hit and run, particularly if the accident involves a collision with another vehicle that results in bodily injuries or property damages; or
- Fleeing law enforcement.
In certain states, some traffic offenses may be labeled as gross or aggravated misdemeanors. These crimes, although they are classified as misdemeanors, may result in harsher penalties that are similar to penalties for felony convictions.
What are the Consequences of Being Convicted of a Traffic Felony?
A felony is an offense that is punishable by a prison sentence of more than one year. In most cases, traffic felonies include monetary fines in addition to the prison sentence. Fines may range from $500 to thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the offense and the jurisdiction.
A conviction for a traffic felony may have a serious impact on an individual, including:
- Suspension or permanent loss of a driver’s license;
- Retraining requirements or suspensions;
- Points added to their driver’s license history;
- Increased insurance premiums;
- Loss of citizen’s privileges, including voting or being allowed to teach in a professional setting;
- Towing or impounding of the vehicle used during the commission of the felony;
- A prohibition on ownership of firearms;
- A permanent mark on the individual’s criminal record;
- In the case of a DUI, a person may be required to install a breathalyzer in their vehicle; or
- A life sentence in prison in jurisdictions that have a three strikes felony rule.
It is important to note that some crimes may be charged as a misdemeanor but may be increased to felony charges, especially if the offense has been repeated multiple times.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Drugged Driving Case?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced DUI/DWI lawyer for any drugged driving case. As previously noted, the consequences for a DUI or DWI conviction can be very severe. It may even involve civil penalties if a lawsuit is filed.
A lawyer can review your case, advise you if any defenses are available in your case, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary. It is important to have an attorney on your case because drugged driving laws vary by jurisdiction.