If you took a national poll and asked people to explain a DWI charge, a common response would be that someone was caught drinking and driving. While alcohol consumption certainly falls under Minnesota statute 169A.20 that governs Driving While Impaired, there’s more to the law than most people realize. Below, we’ll present four examples. Can you determine which scenarios constitute a DWI charge?
A) William just found out he got accepted to graduate school. He and some of his friends decide to go out on the town to celebrate. William sticks to beer throughout the night, and when the bar closes he decides he’s sober enough to drive. A state trooper notices William driving erratically, so he pulls him over. William, against our better judgment, submits to a breathalyzer test and blows a .12. Can he be charged with a DWI?
B) Sally has been working as a custodian at Maple Grove High School for 14 years. One day, she hurts her back while moving a desk into a teacher’s room. She visits her doctor and she is prescribed Vicodin to deal with her back pain. Not wanting to lose any of her valuable vacation days, Sally pops a pill and drives into work. An officer notices Sally has a broken taillight, so he pulls her over. Can she be charged with DWI?
C) Mitch is new on campus. He’s eager to make friends, so he attends an off-campus party with some people from his dorm. Mitch knows that he’s the designated driver for the night, so he doesn’t drink any alcohol during the party. Later in the night, Mitch steps outside to get some fresh air. Two girls are smoking marijuana on the porch steps, and they offer Mitch a hit. Mitch decides to smoke with the girls, and an hour later he drives back to campus. A cop spots Mitch driving without his seatbelt on, so he pulls him over. Can Mitch be charged with a DWI?
D) Dave wakes up early one morning to join his friends for a round of golf. Knowing the side effects of the Adderall medication he takes for his Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dave arranges for one of his friends to pick him up on the way to the golf course. Dave and his buddies have a great day golfing until the 18th hole. Dave tries to whip a donut with the golf cart and ends up rolling the cart. A clubhouse manager witnesses the accident and calls the police because he wants to make sure he is not liable for injuries. Can Dave be charged with a DWI?
Before we give you the answers, take a look that the DWI law:
“It is a crime for any person to drive, operate, or be in physical control of any motor vehicle, when
- the person is under the influence of alcohol;
- the person is under the influence of a controlled substance;
- the person is knowingly under the influence of a hazardous substance that affects the nervous system, brain, or muscles of the person so as to substantially impair the person’s ability to drive or operate the motor vehicle;
- the person is under the influence of a combination of any two or more of the elements named in clauses (1) to (3); or
- the person’s body contains any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.
Did reading the law change your opinion of William, Sally, Mitch or Dave? Let’s take a look at the answers.
Can they be charged with a DWI?
William – YES. William can be charged with DWI because he violates the first part of the law, which states a person may not operate a motor vehicle with a Blood-Alcohol Content above .08.
Sally – YES. Sally can be charged with DWI because she violated the final clause in the DWI law, which states that a person may not operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance listed as a Schedule I or II drug. Vicodin is listed as a Schedule II drug, and driving with it in your system, even if it’s prescribed by a doctor, is against the law.
Mitch- YES. Mitch can be charged with a DWI because he is operating a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance. Cannabis is also shown to affect a person’s reaction time, so he is also violating the clause that restricts driving under the influence of a hazardous substance.
Dave – YES. Much like Sally, Dave can be charged with a DWI because Adderall is listed as a Schedule II drug by the FDA and DEA. Although he had a friend drive him to the golf course, you can still be charged with a DWI on a golf cart because it qualifies as a motor vehicle. Even though Dave was prescribed Adderall by his doctor, and he got a ride to the golf course from his friend, his slip up with the golf cart can land him in hot water.
Fighting a Prescription Drug DWI Charge
Getting charged with a DWI because you took a drug prescribed by your doctor doesn’t seem fair, but how does one go about fighting the charge? In Minnesota, Subdivision 2 of statute 169A.46 offers an affirmative defense for a prescription drug DWI charge:
If proven by a preponderance of the evidence, it is an affirmative defense to a violation of section 169A.20 subdivision 1, clause (7) (presence of Schedule I or II controlled substance), that the defendant used the controlled substance according to the terms of a prescription issued for the defendant in accordance with sections 152.11 and 152.12
What this means is if you can prove that you were taking your pills in accordance with your doctor’s orders, than the charges may be dismissed. The only downfall of this defense is that most defendants must take the stand to defend themselves, and the burden of proof shifts from the prosecution to the defense.