What Are Prescription Medication DWI Laws In New Jersey?
It all comes under the same drunk driving statute, New Jersey statute 39:4-50. That statute prohibits not only driving while under the influence of alcohol, but also under the influence of a narcotic, hallucinogenic and other habit producing drugs. That definition has been broadened to include those drugs that have a narcotic or intoxicating effect. While they are less common than alcohol DWIs, the numbers have been increasing over the last few years as the focus for police. They have shifted in that direction because the number of alcohol related DUIs are coming down as a result of services like Uber and Lift.
Because of the greater awareness on the part of society in general, they are more aware about the effects of drinking and driving. However, it is not necessarily so apparent when it comes to medication, particularly medications that are legally prescribed. So we see with increasing frequency, the tendency of police to accuse people who just happen to be taking prescription medication of being under the influence of that even though it is not as clear cut as it usually is with a DWI.
How Common Are DWI cases Involving The Use Of Prescription Medication In New Jersey?
I am seeing more of them as time goes on. It is growing to maybe ten percent of my cases. They really come out based on the same ignorance that people generally show about their constitutional rights, thinking that police are there to help them even though the police have made them a target of an investigation without them even knowing it. Police will often ask questions, “Have you had any alcohol to drink today?” They also now ask, “Are you taking any medication or using any drugs?”
When people innocently respond, cops shift then to a targeted focus on that individual and look for any evidence of impairment and attributing that to the drug use whether it is valid or not. So, yes, the numbers are increasing. Once the arrest is made, there are a number of other investigative techniques that they attempt to employ.
Is There A Typical Type Of Client Involved In Prescription Medication DWIs?
The clients with prescription medications tend to be a little bit molding. It makes them more trusting, less skeptical of the police and unfortunately, they end up talking themselves into an arrest and sometimes even a conviction. You see illicit drugs with younger people such as recreational marijuana use. You are dealing with people who are not accustomed to being sucked into the criminal justice system which makes it a very interesting case. The way that police diagnose drug impairment is significantly flawed, although some courts will give those techniques validity that they are really not entitled to be given. For example, the most common technique used once the person has been arrested, is something called a Drug Recognition Evaluation.
It is basically a 12-step process, starting with the use of breath testing to rule out alcohol as the intoxicating agent, an interview with the arresting officer about the particulars of the stop and a series of psychophysical tests, measurements, vital signs like pulse, blood pressure, checks of the eyes to techniques called checking for Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, the pupil size, in various lighting conditions; and most significantly, an interview with the person about what they have been taking and when they took it. The people doing these tests are called Drug Recognition Evaluators although police prefer to refer to them as drug recognition experts as if to give them more credibility.
The fact of the matter is the technique has not been scientifically validated at all, there are four published studies out there, two of which come from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which attribute a very high degree of liability in excess of ninety percent to the DRE technique, yet when those techniques are replicated by a neutral evaluating agency like a university, studies show that the DRE technique is only about forty-seven percent liable, not as good as tossing a coin. The key factor seems to be that the university studies eliminate one step in the process, which is the step that calls upon the evaluator to ask the person what it is they are taking.
The reason, according to police studies, the technique correlates so highly with intoxication because what is really happening is police are relying upon the words of the person they are evaluating and the technique itself is nothing more than a bunch of window dressing to make it seem as if the cops have superior knowledge, when in fact they are doing no more than guessing like anybody else would. They are relying primarily on the words of the person they are evaluating.
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