Drug DWI

Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) on drugs, often labeled as Drug DWI, refers to operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs, whether they are illegal, prescription, or over-the-counter. This section will explore the specifics of Drug DWI, highlighting its risks, legal definitions, and consequences.

Definition and Overview

Drug DWI encompasses driving under the influence of any substance that impairs cognitive and motor functions. Unlike alcohol-related DWI, where impairment is often measured by Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), drug impairment is more complex to quantify.

Types of Drugs: The range of drugs that can lead to DWI charges includes illegal narcotics, prescription medications like opioids or sedatives, and even some over-the-counter medications.

Assessment of Impairment: Due to the varied effects of different substances, law enforcement may use field sobriety tests, drug recognition experts, and chemical tests to determine impairment.

Role of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs)

The complexity of identifying impairment in Drug DWI cases has led to the specialized role of Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). These are law enforcement officers trained to recognize signs of drug impairment in drivers. Their expertise is crucial in situations where standard sobriety tests are insufficient to determine impairment due to drugs.

Training and Certification: DREs undergo extensive training in a program developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). This training equips them with knowledge in physiology, toxicology, and the pharmacological effects of different drugs. It also includes techniques for conducting standardized field sobriety tests and observing behavioral and physical signs of drug use.

On-Scene Evaluation: In a suspected Drug DWI situation, a DRE conducts a detailed, standardized evaluation. This may include examining the driver’s eyes for signs of drug use, assessing their vital signs, and observing their behavior and cognitive functions. The DRE’s assessment can identify specific categories of drugs that might be causing impairment.

Legal Significance: The observations and conclusions of a DRE can be critical in legal proceedings. Their expert testimony can help establish the presence of drug impairment when chemical tests are inconclusive or unavailable. However, the reliance on DREs also raises questions about subjectivity and the accuracy of their assessments.

Challenges and Controversies: While DREs play a vital role, their evaluations are not infallible. Critics argue that some aspects of the DRE’s assessment are subjective and can lead to false positives. There is an ongoing debate about the scientific validity of DRE evaluations, especially in cases where they are the primary evidence of drug impairment.

The use of DREs in Drug DWI cases underscores the ongoing effort to adapt law enforcement and legal processes to the challenges of drug-impaired driving. Their role is a testament to the complex nature of enforcing Drug DWI laws and the need for specialized skills in handling such offenses. As drug use patterns evolve and new substances emerge, the role of DREs will likely continue to be crucial in the identification and prosecution of Drug DWI cases.

Historical Development

The rise in Drug DWI cases has paralleled the increase in prescription drug use and the changing legal status of certain substances, like marijuana.

Evolving Legal Standards: Initially, drug-impaired driving laws were less specific, focusing mainly on alcohol. Over time, as the dangers of drug-impaired driving became clearer, laws were updated to address this issue more directly.

Technology and Testing: Advances in technology have improved the ability to detect and measure drug impairment, although challenges remain due to the diverse nature of substances.

Modern Statutory Interpretations

Today’s Drug DWI laws reflect a growing understanding of drug-impaired driving:

Zero Tolerance Laws: Some jurisdictions have zero-tolerance laws for certain drugs, meaning any detectable amount can result in a DWI charge.

Model Penal Code (MPC): The MPC influences how states define and prosecute drug-impaired driving, emphasizing the importance of impairment rather than the specific substance or its legality.

Penalties and Rehabilitation: Penalties for Drug DWI can include fines, jail time, license suspension, and mandatory rehabilitation programs.

Summary of Elements

To constitute a Drug DWI, the following elements are typically involved:

  1. Evidence of Impairment: Demonstrable impairment in the driver’s abilities due to drug use.
  2. Presence of Drugs: Evidence of drug use, whether through physical symptoms, field tests, or chemical testing.

🔍 Reflect: How do the challenges in detecting and measuring drug impairment impact the enforcement of Drug DWI laws?

Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  12/01/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License

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