Many drivers in the Bellevue area take prescription opioids for back pain or when recovering from surgery. Others become addicted to the pain pills and have to take more and more pills just to get by. Opioids can affect your ability to drive, and police are increasingly going after drivers under the influence of drugs.
A DUI arrest can be costly and negatively impact your family life and your job. Even a first-time DUI in Washington can result in the loss of your license, DUI school, expensive fines, increased auto insurance, and a criminal record. If you were arrested on suspicion of a drug DUI, you have to act quickly to fight for a chance to avoid a suspended license. Contact your Bellevue opioid DUI lawyer as soon as possible.
Opioid DUI Penalties in Washington
The penalties for a drug DUI are similar to drunk driving penalties. Under Washington law, RCW 46.61.502, a person is guilty of driving while under the influence of or affected by intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug. This includes the legal or illegal use of opioids.
The penalties for a first offense DUI in Washington include:
- Mandatory minimum jail time of 24 hours (or 15 days of electronic home monitoring)
- Fines up to $5,000
- 90-day license suspension
- Department of Licensing (DOL) imposed ignition interlock device (IID)
- Drug education and treatment program as ordered
Before you are ever convicted of a DUI, your driver's license will be suspended automatically after a drugged driving arrest. After a DUI arrest, the Washington State Department of Licensing administratively suspends your license for 90 days. The only way to prevent an automatic suspension is to request a hearing within 20 days of your arrest.
In addition to the criminal and administrative penalties, your auto insurance rates can increase for years to come. On top of that, some employees must report their DUI arrest, which could impact their employment.
Prescription and Illegal Opioids
Many drivers end up under arrest for impaired driving without realizing they've done anything wrong. Individuals who have been prescribed a pain medication by a doctor may not be aware the prescription can impair the ability to drive. For many opiate users, a drug DUI is their first run-in with the law.
Some may remember Tiger Woods' arrest for a DUI in 2017. Although he was found asleep at the wheel of his car, appeared confused, slurred his speech, and failed the field sobriety tests, his breath test registered no alcohol. The golfer later stated that what happened was due to an unexpected reaction to prescribed pain medication.
Washington's impaired driving laws apply to prescription drugs as well as illegal “street” drugs. It is not a defense to a drug DUI that the driver was prescribed the opiate medication or legally allowed to use the substance. Drivers under the influence of any drug that affects the ability to drive can be charged with a DUI.
Opioids are commonly prescribed to treat short-term severe pain, acute pain, some forms of chronic pain, and even for coughs. Common opioids include:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
- Fentanyl (Duragesic)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
Opioids can affect the individual's brain and body. Opioids can make a driver feel sleepy, confused, cloud judgment, and slow reaction times. Taking opioids in combination with other drugs or alcohol can increase the impairing effects.
Opioids can also be extremely addictive. Many patients who are legally prescribed opiates become addicted and turn to buying pills on the street if they cannot get them from a doctor. Opioid addiction is an increasing problem across the country, including here in Bellevue and throughout the area.
Chemical Drug Testing After a DUI
After a driver is arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the police request a chemical test to check for the presence of drugs or alcohol in the driver's body. For suspected drunk drivers, a chemical test is usually taken using a breath or blood sample. For drivers suspected of using drugs, the police generally require a blood or urine sample.
Blood and urine samples are tested for the presence of a number of drugs or chemical compounds, including a wide range of opioids. This may include an initial test to quickly screen for the presence of any number of opioids. An additional laboratory test may be performed using gas chromatography or liquid chromatography with mass spectrometry to confirm the specific presence and amount of opioids present in the blood or urine.
However, there are a number of problems with the reliability of these tests. Chemical testing in DUI cases is subject to:
- Using uncalibrated machines
- Operator error
- Mixing up samples
- False positives.
Defenses to Positive Opioid Results
The prosecutor in your opioid DUI case may make you think you have no choice but to plead guilty. However, there are a number of possible defenses you can use to defend yourself against criminal drug DUI charges. Talk to your Bellevue opioid DUI defense attorney about the best defenses available in your case.
Some defenses may include challenging the legality of the initial traffic stop. If the police pulled you over in violation of your rights, your lawyer may be able to exclude the police evidence against you. Similarly, if the police violated your constitutional rights against unlawful search or seizure, the evidence may be thrown out.
You may also have a strong defense against the use of the chemical test results. There are a number of possibilities to explain a positive drug test that has nothing to do with your impairment. This includes equipment contamination, sample cross-contamination, or failure to properly calibrate the lab equipment.
Bellevue Opioid DUI Defense Lawyer
Innocent people who take painkillers for chronic pain can be arrested for a DUI even if they are not impaired. The police often treat suspected drugged drivers like common criminals, leaving drivers feeling like they have no other option but to plead guilty and take a plea deal. Remember, an accusation is NOT a conviction.
John Tymczyszyn is an experienced criminal defense attorney who has successfully fought for hundreds of clients accused of drug or alcohol DUIs. As a former prosecutor, John understands how to challenge the police evidence and chemical test results the prosecutor will try to use against you. Contact John today for a free consultation on your DUI case.