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What Happens When Someone Is Pulled Over On Suspicion Of A Drug DUI?

The penalties for drug related DUIs are tougher than some of the alcohol related DUIs. You can be driving down the road after having taken your prescription medicine and the next thing you know, you are facing a DUI charge when you didn't do anything wrong. Drug DUI cases are tough but we have the training and experience to handle these cases.

When a police officer suspects that a motorist is driving under the influence of a drug or controlled substance, the motorist is typically given a battery of tests including field sobriety testing and a blood test. Here are some common questions that we get from clients charged with driving under the influence of drugs.

Are Standardized Field Sobriety Tests Administered In Drug DUI Cases?

Typically, standardized field sobriety tests are requested where a police officer believes that drugs have impaired a motorist's ability to safely drive. Field sobriety testing has never been validated, or proven to be reliable, when investigating cases involving motorists suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. Sometimes, police officers will call in Drug Recognition Experts or Evaluators (“DRE”) for assistance. DRE officers are discussed below.

How And When Do Police Check For Drugs In The Driver's System?

The police typically request that the motorist take a blood test when driving under the influence of drugs is suspected. The police also rely on certain identifying factors or symptoms to determine whether or not a person is driving under the influence of drugs. For example, when a motorist's pupils are dilated (pupils appear large), the police will suspect the use of certain drugs such a central nervous system stimulant. When the pupils are constricted (really small), the police will suspect narcotic analgesics. Many medical conditions can cause dilated or constricted pupils; yet, the police will always assume the worst – that the motorist is driving “under the influence” of a drug. Police officers will sometimes call in Drug Recognition Experts or Evaluators (“DRE”) for assistance. DRE officers are discussed below.

In The Case Of Marijuana, Do Police Test For Metabolites Or Active Compounds?

In Pennsylvania, just having marijuana metabolites in your system will result in a DUI charge. Marijuana metabolites can be present for weeks after using marijuana. A driver doesn't even have to use marijuana on the date he is pulled over to be arrested for a driving under the influence of drugs offense. The Courts have ruled that it is a permissible way to punish a person for having smoked marijuana in the past and then driving.

What Is A Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE)? What Kind Of Training Do They Have?

A Drug Recognition Evaluator (“DRE”) is a law enforcement officer who receives additional training to recognize motorists who may be impaired by substances other than alcohol. While the DRE fancies himself as an “expert,” in reality, it is a police officer using “junk science” to conclude that a motorist is driving under the influence of drugs. Police officers are essentially offering medical opinions based on taking classes offered by other police officers. An extensive medical background (that is not possessed by most police officers) is required to make such determinations. Police officers are taking pulse rates and blood pressure readings without the proper training to engage in these activities.

There are 12 steps to a DRE's Drug Evaluation Process. The process calls on police officers to render medical opinions without sufficient background or training to do so.

Drug recognition evaluators use field sobriety testing when forming an opinion as to whether or not a motorist is driving under the influence of drugs; however, field sobriety testing has never been validated to be used when drugs are involved.

In, Pennsylvania, some police officers are attempting to offer their “expert” opinion as DRE's regarding whether a driver is under the influence of a one of seven categories of narcotics (central nervous system depressants, inhalants, dissociative anesthetics, cannabis, central nervous system stimulants, hallucinogens, or narcotic analgesics).

The reliability of DRE's has been as widely criticized and has been challenged by defense attorneys in many states. Recently, a court in Maryland found that a “Drug Recognition Expert” was not qualified to render an opinion regarding whether the driver was under the influence of drugs. In that case, the defense called three expert witnesses in various fields of medicine to challenge the reliability of the DRE's training, testing, and his opinion.

One of the things that DRE's look for is dilated pupils. There are numerous medical reasons why one's pupils may become dilated which include sexual arousal, excitement, and performing complex cognitive tasks. Ironically, most people who get pulled over even for a simple traffic ticket experience a bit of fight or flight response to flashing blue lights. Just the sheer fact of being pulled over can cause enough excitement, and the release of enough adrenaline, to cause your pupils to become dilated.

Pennsylvania's courts have yet to determine whether a DRE's opinion is reliable. Until then, our DUI defense attorneys at Mike Sherman Law are prepared to challenge any opinion presented against our clients by any “Drug Recognition Expert.”

Mike traveled to the State of Georgia for a 1 week training course on the DRE protocols conducted by the former director of the Georgia state DRE program. Armed with this information, the DUI defense attorneys at Mike Sherman Law know how to attack this junk science.

It is important to point out: motorists are not required to take any testing given by the DRE officers!

Can a Person Refuse a Drug Test? What are the Consequences?

Refusing to take a chemical test, specifically a blood test, will result in both criminal and civil consequences. Civilly, a motorist who refuses to take a chemical test when there are reasonable grounds for such a request will lose his license for 12 to 18 months depending on the motorist's prior history. “Reasonable grounds” relates to a police officer's belief that a motorist is driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Criminally, we believe that a person has the right to refuse chemical testing and the police are required to get a search warrant. HOWEVER – this is VERY important, the law is in a state of flux on this issue and it is very case specific. A motorist should not think that he can refuse a blood test, argue the police didn't have a warrant and then expect to win. It is very fact specific.

How Reliable Are the Blood Tests That Are Taken?

Blood testing is inherently unreliable. We've seen that most labs fail to follow the required forensic protocols to show that the blood test result was precise and accurate. Hospital testing is much less accurate than crime labs. DUI defense lawyers must know the science surrounding blood testing and the errors and mistakes involved in the testing process to put forward a defense to driving under the influence charges.

Should I Ever Admit to Taking Prescription Medication in Front Of A Police Officer?

You should never volunteer information to a police officer. The minute the police officer sees you, he is building his case against you. Anything you say will be used against you. Even if you tell the police officer you took your prescribed medicine, he will try to use that against you. It is best to first ask the police officer if you can leave. In reality, the officer will say “no.” At that point, it is best to say you have nothing to hide but that you prefer to talk with a lawyer before answering questions.

Can I Be Charged with a Drug DUI If I Have Taken Prescription Medication?

This is a scary part of Pennsylvania DUI law. Technically, motorists can be and are charged with driving under the influence of controlled substances when all they did was take their prescription medicine. Police officers will try to convince the Judge you exhibited symptoms that showed you were impaired. Even though you may have been taking that medication for years and the lab results show that your medication was within the prescribed limits, the police typically stick to their guns and try to convict motorists of driving under the influence of drugs. That's why it's so important to have an attorney who is trained and schooled in the science, medicine, and forensic aspects of driving under the influence of prescription drug cases.

If I'm Charged with a Drug-Related DUI, Will I Get Other Drug-Related Charges Such as Possession?

Driving under the influence of drugs charges often come with other drug-related charges. For example, a person caught with the actual illegal drugs (such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, pills that were not prescribed), will often be charged with unlawful possession of drugs. If caught with a large quantity of illegal drugs, the motorist may be charged with Possession With Intent to Deliver Drugs, which is a felony offense.

If I Face A Second Charge for Drug DUI and The First Was for Alcohol, Does That Change Anything?

No. There is no difference between an offense involving driving under the influence of drugs and an offense involving driving under the influence of alcohol. But, the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs are typically stiffer.

Will I Be Required to Install an Ignition Interlock Device If I'm Convicted of a Drug DUI?

It depends. If it is your first offense and you enter the ARD Program, you will not have to install and Ignition Interlock device.  If, however, you are convicted of a drug related DUI, you must install an Ignition Interlock device. Even though ignition interlock systems involve detecting alcohol use, a person convicted of a DUI involving drugs will also be subjected to the same ignition interlock rules as those motorists who are convicted of a DUI involving alcohol.

What Are the Collateral Consequences Associated with A Drug DUI Conviction?

Drug-related DUI charges will result in a license suspension if convicted or if the person enters a first offender program. Your prior record determines the length of the suspension. An offense involving drugs can also affect students and student loans, and on certain jobs, especially those involving the medical profession.

How Much Do You Have to Rely on Science in Defending A Drug DUI Case?

At Mike Sherman Law, our motto is “Science. Investigation. Preparation. We See
What Other Lawyers Don't.” The reason we see what other lawyers don't is that we rely on our extensive knowledge and training in the areas of science, medicine, and forensics used in DUI cases. Mike Sherman has studied in a laboratory and actually learned how blood is tested in DUI cases along with learning about all of the errors involved in the testing process. Mike has also traveled the country learning techniques to defend people accused of DUI. By understanding the science and forensics involved in DUI cases, we may be able to help you avoid a conviction.

Why Is It Critical to Have an Experienced Attorney in Order to Defend Against A Drug DUI?

DUI is based on science. Mike Sherman has traveled the country learning the scientific, medical, and forensic aspects involved in DUI cases. If you have a lawyer who doesn't understand the science used by the government when trying to convict you, they're not going to know how use the science to fight your case or fight the science being used against you. Our extensive knowledge of the science used by the government to convict people for DUI gives you the upper hand when you walk into court.

We understand the science behind DUI cases. Our office has won many DUI cases even where our clients have been told by other attorneys that their case was unwinnable. We have had this success by attacking the science involved. We have received extensive training related to the scientific evidence used in DUI cases. A lawyer must understand the science, medicine, and forensics the government is using when trying to convict you in order to tell you if it was right in your DUI case.

What Are The Penalties In DUI Drug Cases In Your State?

Pennsylvania has a three-tiered penalty system for all DUI offenses. A DUI involving drugs automatically subjects the motorist to the highest penalties. The exact penalty depends on how many DUI offenses the motorist has been convicted of in the past 10 years. The more convictions you have, the more severe the penalty will be. Check out our chart of the penalties involved in DUI cases to see the exact penalty you may be facing.

Science. Investigation. Preparation. At Mike Sherman Law, we see what other lawyers don't! We are passionate about providing an aggressive defense where we leave no stone unturned when helping our clients. Do you have questions? Call us immediately for a free strategy session.

For more information on Being Pulled Over For Drug DUI, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (412) 471-5000 today.

What is the Mike Sherman Difference?

Mike Sherman has unique experience and knowledge which he uses to protect his clients.
  • Mike Sherman is a former attorney for the Pennsylvania State Police. He knows both sides of the law and uses that knowledge to benefit his clients.
  • Mike Sherman wrote “the” Pennsylvania textbook on Pennsylvania DUI law, Driving Under the Influence Law and Practice.
  • He uses a scientific method to investigate your case. Relying on his deep understanding of forensic science, he picks apart the evidence against you and looks for errors that he can challenge. He then carefully prepares your case with the goal of highlighting these issues and putting you in the best possible position.

If you are facing a serious charge, don't delay. Call now to set up your free consultation at 412-471-5000


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