Can You Get an OUI for Driving High?

People traditionally associate DUI cases with alcohol, and with good reason. Drunk driving cases make up the overwhelming majority of them. But here in South Florida, we also see a slew of DUI charges for people who are accused of being impaired, not by alcohol, but by drugs or controlled substances. Those charges are less well-known than alcohol-related cases, but they’re very real and still very prevalent, and they have consequences just like their more well-known counterparts. Usually, people don’t realize at first that they could even be charged with driving under the influence of anything other than alcohol. Many a client comes into my office and says, "Hey, I'd smoked a joint before I drove, but I didn’t know it counted as a DUI." Or, “I was out partying a little bit, I knew I wasn't drunk, so I thought I was safe because that’s all cops check for." And the answer is, you can't really insulate yourself from prosecution by being impaired by something other than alcohol or by not knowing that driving while impaired is something that you can be charged with.

If law enforcement feels that you are impaired, whether it's by alcohol or anything else, they're going to arrest you for DUI, and they're going to prosecute you. And what Florida considers a drug or controlled substance is a pretty extensive list; they even include what they call “harmful chemicals”. Opiates like hydrocodone and heroin, opioids like OxyContin, stimulants like Adderall or cocaine, hallucinogens like ketamine, benzodiazepines like diazepam, and cannabinoids like THC (either from marijuana or THC products like vaporizers) are all considered controlled substances. Chemicals that you might “huff” to get high are considered harmful and therefore illegal to consume prior to driving; some of those include nitrous oxide, isopropyl alcohol, and a number of chemicals found in chemical solvents, such as acetone and toluene.

That's why you really need the benefit of a lawyer who has plenty of experience in handling those cases. A DUI involving alcohol is an entirely different animal than a DUI involving drugs or controlled substances. Alcohol-based DUIs often use an Intoxilyzer test to determine your level of intoxication, but drug-based DUIs can’t use that method. Very often, a forensic toxicologist or blood or urine sample will be analyzed. And it’s not enough to read the results of those test— those results only have meaning inasmuch as you interpret them in context. Much like someone with experience handling breathalyzer results can tell you that one test reading a .08 and the other reading a .04 means that the results are likely unreliable, someone with experience handling toxicology tests can tell you what exactly the results mean beyond “This is bad,” and “This is good.” You need someone with the experience who's read through those reports, deposed those experts, knows how to present the defenses that are truly available to you.

I've handled them. I know that stuff like the back of my hand. That's why I take pride in representing anyone accused of DUI, including by controlled substances. If you could benefit from an experienced attorney who knows how to interpret evidence and present the best defense possible, give us a call.

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