According to chapter 90, section 24 of Massachusetts General Law, you can be charged with an OUI if you drive a motor vehicle “while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, or of marijuana, narcotic drugs, depressants or stimulant substances... or the vapors of glue.” In other words, it is considered a crime to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of any kind of drug that the statute prohibits. These include “designer” drugs, synthetically produced drugs like ecstasy, and other recognized street drugs like crack and heroin, but can also include prescription drugs.
An individual is considered impaired and can be charged with an OUI if they drive while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.
Driving on Marijuana in Massachusetts
It is important to note that although the recreational use of marijuana is now legal in the state of Massachusetts, it is still illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. As of this writing, Massachusetts lawmakers had recently submitted legislation that could further change state laws in regards to marijuana. There is very little chance that marijuana driving laws will change or become less stringent, however.
If a police officer believes that a driver is high on marijuana or any other substance, a driver has automatically given them consent to a blood, mouth, breath, or urine test. This is called the “Implied Consent Law.” Of course, blood and urine tests can’t determine when marijuana was actually used, as TCH lingers in the human body for days or even months after it has been consumed. This makes them poor tools for determining a person’s guilt, although they may be submitted as evidence.
Some states are now using drug swab tests. Police will use a cotton swap to test a driver’s saliva. Supposedly, this should help them determine that a driver actually used drugs recently. There are conflicting reports as to the effectiveness of these tests, however. Some drugs can stay in a driver’s saliva for up to three days.
Police Determine if a Driver is Impaired
Whether or not a driver is impaired by drugs is determined on a case-by-case basis. Police officers will sometimes get the help of a “Drug Recognition Expert” (DRE) if they believe a driver is impaired. These “experts” are specially trained police officers. It is their duty to determine whether or not a driver is under the influence of drugs and what type of drugs they are on. A DRE is usually called in if a breathalyzer test comes up negative for alcohol and the driver invokes their right to remain silent when asked about other drugs. A DRE’s testimony can be used in court only if the government is able to establish the reliability of the DRE protocol and the testimony derived from it.
Unlike an OUI for drinking, there are no standard blood content level requirements for a drugged driving OUI. There is no blood testing standard either, although law enforcement uses the aforementioned tests frequently. After a DRE has determined that a driver is impaired and on a specific type of intoxicant, they may be brought in for blood and urine testing. Chemical tests can also be used in court as evidence. If you are facing an OUI or drug-impaired driving charge, enlist the assistance of a Massachusetts OUI attorney.
Legal Prescriptions and OUI
Like many people in Massachusetts, you may have prescriptions. The bottles may contain warnings that say, “Do not operate machinery while on this medication.” These labels are there to prevent patients from driving while they may be impaired. Even if you believe you have adjusted to a prescription you take regularly and believe you are safe to drive, it is safer to heed the warning on the label. If you are arrested while driving under the influence of a drug for which you have a legal prescription, you can still be convicted of OUI. If you are pulled over by police, it is usually in your best interest to remain silent if they ask about your prescriptions.
The important thing to understand about OUI is that there is no requirement for knowledgeable impairment on behalf of the driver. Even if you don’t believe you are impaired, you can still be charged with an OUI if police believe you are impaired. Even if you take the prescribed dose of your medication, you can still be arrested for an OUI. With a police officer’s testimony and a chemical test that is positive for drugs, you can then be convicted of an OUI if this evidence is sufficient to a judge or jury.
Defense of Drugged Driving Charges in Massachusetts
Seek the help of an experienced OUI attorney if you are facing drugged driving charges in Massachusetts, even if you are facing a charge of driving while on your own prescription. Citing the use of a legal prescription or sleeping pills is not a viable defense. However, depending on the details of your case, you may be able to reduce your charges or earn a verdict of not guilty with the help of an attorney.