Texas DWI Laws: Non-Alcohol Based DWI Charges

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Non-Alcohol Based DWI Charges - Although most of us associate a DWI in Texas with alcohol, you can also be charged with a DWI in Texas if you are found driving under the influence of a controlled substance. Rather than a breathalyzer test, you would have to undergo a blood alcohol test to determine whether you have sufficient levels of drugs in your system to render you too impaired to drive. Like alcohol, most illegal drugs and some over-the-counter drugs can affect your ability to drive by inhibiting certain motor controls.

According to drugabuse.gov, 21.4 million people age 15 and older drove under the influence of alcohol in 2017, while 12.8 million drove under the influence of illegal drugs. The survey found that men were more likely than women to drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and that a higher percentage of adults between the ages of 21 and 25 drive after taking drugs or drinking than young adults between the ages of 16 and 20 or adults over the age of 26.

How Drugs Affect Driving Ability - The effects of illegal drugs on driving skills vary from drug to drug. As an example, a driver using methamphetamine or cocaine may be more likely to be reckless or aggressive in his or her driving abilities, while a driver using marijuana may be more likely to have slow reactions times, decreased coordination and impaired judgment regarding distance and time. Certain prescription medications can also have a negative effect on driving ability. In particular, opioid drugs and benzodiazepines can cause dizziness, drowsiness and impaired thinking and judgment functions.

Drivers under the influence of marijuana may be more likely to pay less attention to the road and other drivers and have a poor reaction time. When marijuana is combined with alcohol, lane weaving is more likely, and at least one study found that those who drive after taking opioids—even prescription opioids—have twice the risk of being involved in a collision. Different drugs affect different people in different ways, and when a drug is paired with alcohol, even small amounts can have negative effects on a driver’s ability to drive safely.

What Drug is Most Often Found in Drivers Involved in a Collision? Marijuana is the drug most often found in drivers who have been involved in a crash, after alcohol, however the role marijuana may play in a collision is unclear because of the fact that THC can be detected in body fluids for weeks following use. This means that even if a person tests positive for marijuana, he or she might not actually have been impaired by the drug, as it could have been used weeks prior. Prescription drugs are also linked to car collisions—in 2016, nearly 20 percent of drivers who drove under the influence tested positive for an opioid.

How Many Auto Collisions are Caused by Drugged Drivers? It is virtually impossible to measure how many auto collisions are the result of a driver with drugs in his or her system since there is no roadside test (like a breathalyzer) for measuring drug levels in the body and because some drugs can stay in the body for days or weeks after use. Further, if a driver has reached the legal limit for alcohol (0.08 percent), there is sufficient evidence for a DWI in Texas charge, therefore the police rarely test for drugs. A significant number of drivers who were fatally injured in 2016 tested positive for drugs, with at least half of those testing positive for two or more drugs.

DWI in Texas Due to Prescription Drug Use - Most drivers assume that if they have a prescription for a drug, they cannot be charged with a DWI in Texas. In fact, this is not the case. You could be charged with a DWI in Texas if it is found that your prescription drug has affected your ability to drive safely. Under Texas Penal Code Section 49.04, you could be driving while under the influence if you are operating a motor vehicle in a public place and your mental and physical faculties were impaired by a controlled substance. A controlled substance can apply to illegal drugs or prescription drugs. Most prescription drugs are listed in the Texas Controlled Substance Act, so are technically a controlled substance. A prescription drug could even impair your motor functions to the point a Texas police officer could believe you were intoxicated.

Should You Submit to Chemical Testing or Field Sobriety Tests? If a Texas police officer believes you are impaired, you could be asked to submit to a blood draw, which is the most accurate test between a breathalyzer, a urine test and a blood test.  Unfortunately, in some cases a blood test could yield inaccurate results if the blood sample is contaminated or if the required chain of command is broken. Your Houston DWI attorney will be able to challenge the results of your blood draw in some cases. You might be better off refusing to engage in field sobriety testing or chemical testing, however if you do agree to such tests, your attorney will likely challenge the results. There are many, many external factors which can cause a driver to fail field sobriety tests, therefore the results are fairly open to challenges.

Penalties for Non-Alcohol Based DWI Charges - If you are convicted of non-alcohol based DWI in Texas charges, the penalties you will face are the same as those you would face for an alcohol-based DWI conviction. For a first-time DWI conviction, you will face a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail, fines as large as $2,000, up to 100 hours of community service, a driver’s license suspension for up to 12 months and may be required to take a DWI education program. A second offense DWI in Texas could result in fines as large as $4,000, up to 12 months in jail, up to 200 hours of community service, and a driver’s license suspension for up to 2 years.

How a Houston DWI Attorney Can Help - If your DWI charges are for a prescription drug, your Sullo & Sullo Houston DWI attorney will have to show that you were not aware the drug could cause impairment. If you refused chemical testing, the Harris County district attorney may have little proof of your impairment, and will be forced to rely on the police report or dashcam footage, if available. An experienced Sullo & Sullo Houston criminal defense attorney will fight hard on your behalf to have your DWI in Texas charges dropped. We understand the negative impact a DWI conviction can have on your future, and will work to keep that from happening. Contact a Sullo & Sullo Houston DWI attorney today for a comprehensive evaluation regarding your DWI in Texas charges.

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