In Colorado, it is illegal to drive if you meet the legal definition of being "under the influence" of drugs. Under the law, you are considered to be under the influence if your ability to drive is "substantially impaired." It makes no difference whether the drugs causing this effect are illegal drugs, or lawfully obtained prescription drugs. A conviction for the driving under the influence of drugs will lead to the same penalties as driving under the influence of alcohol.
DUID attorney Kevin Churchill handles all driving while ability impaired by drugs charges in Denver and all Front Range counties. Unlike alcohol-related driving offenses, impaired driving charges based on drugs do not involve a legal limit. As a result, any amount of drugs in your system can result in DUID charges. DUI arrests based on drugs have risen sharply in recent years, and are prosecuted vigorously throughout Colorado.
Even lawfully valid prescription drugs can be the basis of a DUI charge, and can support an arrest or a conviction. As with cases based on alcohol consumption, there are many effective defenses to these cases. The defense strategy for every case is different, and can be based on many things including an improper traffic stop, lack of probable cause, invalid blood tests, improper advisements, unqualified medical staff, failure to read you your rights, and many others.
Colorado DUID Penalties
A conviction for DUID carries a jail sentence of between 10 days and 12 months in the county jail. This jail can be suspended on a first offense, but only if certain conditions are followed, such as completion of a drug or alcohol evaluation and treatment. There is also mandatory public service requirements of between 48 and 96 hours. Fines can range from $600 to $1,000, in addition to other court costs and mandatory drunk driving surcharges. A DUI attorney will first try to avoid a conviction, and if that cannot be done, will then try to minimize the sentence that you will face.
Drugs That Can Support a DUID Charge
Any drug whatsoever can support a DUID charge in Denver. This is true both for illegal drugs, as well as validly prescribed drugs. The most common drugs that form the basis of an impaired driving charge include:
- Any prescription drug
A conviction for DUID carries the same driver's license penalties as an alcohol-based drunk driving conviction. You may also face separate criminal charges such as possession of drugs. Kevin Churchill is uniquely qualified as both a DUI defense attorney, and as a drug crime defense attorney. Please call our office to discuss representation when you are facing such charges.
A DUID arrest may or may not revoke your license at the DMV. The reason for this is that there is no "per-se" violation for a drug-related case. For example, in alcohol cases a BAC result of 0.08 or higher within two hours of driving is considered a per-se violation that will result in a revocation of your driving privileges. There is no such threshold, or limit, in drug-related cases. However, this will make no difference if you are convicted of DUI in court, as the conviction from court will trigger a revocation at the DMV. While the DMV cannot revoke or suspend your license for any specific level of drugs in your blood, they can revoke your license if you refuse to take a chemical test. Even in cases where no alcohol consumption is suspected, and the suspicion against you is based solely on drugs, you will be required to take a blood test in order to avoid a license revocation.
Blood Test Required
In alcohol-based drunk driving arrests, the driver will be given the option of taking a blood or breath test. However, a breath test does not reveal the presence of drugs in the driver's blood. For that reason, if the officer suspects that you are impaired because of drug consumption, you will be required to take a blood test. As in all impaired driving cases, you have the right to refuse to take a blood test. However, it is nearly always in your best interest to agree to take a chemical test, because the consequences regarding your driver's license are so much more severe, simply for refusing the test. Also, a refusal to take either test may be used as evidence of guilt in the court case against you.
DUID Case Evidence
Because there is no established limit for how much drugs you may have in your blood while driving, a DUI drugs case usually depends on the use of other evidence to convict you. The other evidence that the prosecutor will need includes evidence of impairment. This usually takes the form of the officer's observations of your physical appearance, disoriented behavior, bad driving, poor performance on the roadside tests, or incriminating statements that you make.
Drug Recognition Expert (DRE)
Drug impairment produces different symptoms than alcohol impairment. The arresting officer may not be qualified or trained to interpret the symptoms of drug consumption. If the officer is not so qualified, that is, is not a "drug recognition expert," or "DRE," your attorney may be able to prevent the officer from testifying against you. However, if the officer that stopped you to begin with is not a DRE, then he or she may call a second officer, the drug recognition expert, to come to the scene of your arrest and evaluate your level of impairment. A drug recognition expert is trained to identify both symptoms of drug-related impairment, as well as offer testimony as to how those symptoms resulted in impaired driving.
Legal Drugs and DUI
A DUI case can be based on the use of legal drugs, not just dangerous or illegal substances. Legal drugs that can be involved in these cases include both over-the-counter products such as Benadryl or Nyquill, as well as prescription drugs like Ambien, Percoset, Oxycodone, and many others. The question of whether the driver is under the influence has nothing to do with whether the drugs are legal or not, nor whether the driver has a valid prescription or not. The issue is whether there is evidence that the driver is impaired while driving.
Many of the same defenses apply in DUID cases as in alcohol-related cases. However, there are some added levels of difficulty for the prosecutor that will try to prove you guilty. There is much less scientific research regarding how drugs effect a person than there is for alcohol impairment. For example, there is no clear science regarding how much drugs produces how much impairment. Science is also currently unable to standardize the effect of a given level of drugs, and what the effects would be from person to person, because of different tolerance levels among individuals. If there is no drug recognition expert involved in the case, the prosecution may not be able to show how the observed impairment is associated with a particular drug. The blood test, even when it shows a result, may not be able to establish which drug was used, or whether there was enough of it in the driver's system to cause impaired driving.
DUID cases usually involve urine or blood test results that show some level of drug content in your blood. However, the District Attorney may have trouble proving you guilty because no specific blood content legally establishes guilt. Unlike alcohol cases, there is no number like 0.08 that objectively measures impairment from drugs.
If you take a drug-related DUI case to trial, we will likely recommend the use of a toxicologist as an expert witness. This expert would explain to the jury that a specific blood level of a drug does not correspond with impairment, and that each individual's tolerance to a drug varies greatly. Further, the drug may be detected in your blood as a result of drug use long before the date on which you were driving, and therefore may have had no effect on your ability to drive.
A DUI charge can also be based on a combination of both alcohol and drugs. In such a case, the prosecutor would not have to show a specific blood level of either alcohol or drugs - but only that your ability to drive was substantially impaired by the combination of both.