When the average person hears DUI, it is almost a certainty they will assume alcohol was involved. Given that there were 4,941 alcohol-related crashes in 2015 alone, it is understandable that alcohol often takes center stage in the DUI discussion.

That said, while it may be true that Arizona’s DUI laws are the toughest in the nation, alcohol is only one of the ways to get arrested for driving under the influence. Using prescription drugs, for example, could also lead to a DUI arrest.

Some Arizonans are under the belief that having a valid medical prescription for your drugs will help you get out of a DUI. Unfortunately, this is only partially true. Getting to the full truth of prescription drug DUIs requires an understanding of DUI charges in Arizona.

Driving With Illegal Drugs in Your System

According to A.R.S. 28-1381(A)(3), it is against the law to drive with any illegal drug or non-prescribed prescription drug in your body. Driving with a non-prescribed drug in your system will lead to a DUI charge based on this statute.

Arizona treats a violation of this nature as a strict liability crime, so impairment is not required. Merely having the non-prescribed drug in your system will make it easy for an Arizona prosecutor to prove this statute was violated.

The sole defense to this charge is if you have a valid prescription for the drugs found in your system.

DUI for Prescription Drugs

Impairment to the Slightest Degree

The first misdemeanor DUI for prescription drug use is outlined by A.R.S. 28-1381(A)(1), which states that it is illegal to drive while impaired to the slightest degree by:

  • Any drug
  • Alcohol
  • A combination of any drug(s) or alcohol

This statute strictly prohibits driving under the influence of any drug, regardless of whether it is legal. As a result, the implications of this zero tolerance statute lead to the conclusion that a valid prescription is not a legal defense to a 1381(A)(1) DUI charge.

While a valid prescription is a defense to a 1381(A)(3) charge, it will not be a valid legal defense if the prescription drug has impaired you to the slightest degree.

How Arizona Law Enforcement Makes an Impairment Determination for a Drug Test

When alcohol is involved, authorities will test a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). A drug test, on the other hand, is not so simple. Drug tests cannot let authorities know for certain that a driver was impaired.

Instead, drug tests can, at best, merely estimate how much of a drug was in the driver’s system.

This estimate is based on a blood or urine sample. To get past this shortcoming, Arizona law enforcement employs so-called drug recognition experts (DREs), who have taken a law enforcement class and exam then issues a certification to recognize drug-induced impairment.

If you have been convicted for driving with a valid prescription that — according to law enforcement — made you impaired, you need an Arizona criminal defense lawyer who will fight these charges. Often, there are a number of procedural issues that can be raised in your defense since DREs have minimal training and rarely want to admit they made a mistake.

It is important to raise these defenses since even a first offense prescription drug DUI can lead to severe mandatory minimum penalties. This includes a 90-day license suspension. Arizona treats DUI offenses more seriously than almost every other state.

If you have been charged with a prescription drug DUI under either A.R.S. 28-1381(A)(1) or 28-1381(A)(3), schedule a legal consultation with a Phoenix DUI lawyer who will provide you with a strong legal defense against all charges.

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