In Pennsylvania, driving under the influence of drugs is a serious crime. Prosecuted as a type of DUI (commonly referred to as a “drug DUI”), driving under the influence of drugs can carry up to a $5,000 fine, six months in jail, a 12-month driver’s license suspension, and other penalties for a first-time offense.

If you are facing a drug DUI charge in Pennsylvania, there is a lot you need to know. Here is a brief introduction from Philadelphia defense lawyer Brian Fishman:

1. The Crime of Driving Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance

Driving under the influence of a controlled substance is a criminal offense under Section 3802(d) of the Pennsylvania Statutes. This section of the law makes it illegal to drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of a vehicle if:

  • You have any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your blood;
  • You have any amount of a Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substance in your blood (unless you have a subscription for the drug);
  • You have a metabolite of a Schedule I, II, or III controlled substance in your blood (unless subscribed);
  • You are under the influence of any drug or combination of drugs (including alcohol), “to a degree which impairs [your] ability to safely drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle;” or,
  • You are under the influence of a solvent or other substance in violation of Section 7303 (which prohibits inhaling fumes or vapors for their intoxicating or inebriating effects).

Schedule I controlled substances include: bath salts, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, marijuana, and Quaaludes, among others. Common Schedule II controlled substances include: Adderall, cocaine, Demerol, fentanyl, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, methadone, methamphetamine, and Ritalin. Common Schedule III controlled substances include: anabolic steroids, codeine, ketamine, and testosterone.

As you can see from the list above, there are potentially two ways you can be charged with a drug DUI in Pennsylvania. The first is what is known as a per se violation. If you have any amount of a Schedule I, III, or III drug in your blood (unless you have a valid prescription for a Schedule II or III drug), then you are in violation of Section 3802(d). For a per se violation, prosecutors do not need proof that you were legally impaired—if you have a prohibited drug in your system, then you are guilty of a drug DUI.

The second way you can be charged with a drug DUI in Pennsylvania is based on impairment. If your driving ability is impaired by any drug, this can also support a drug DUI charge under Section 3802(d). This applies to all prescription and over-the-counter drugs listed on Schedules II, III, IV, and V.

2. The Police Can Test for the Presence of Drugs and Drug Impairment in Several Ways

While it is not possible to detect the presence of drugs in a person’s system with a Breathalyzer, the police can still test for the presence of drugs and drug impairment in several ways.

The first way the police will usually test a person suspected of driving under the influence of drugs is by performing the field sobriety tests (FSTs). You are not required to submit to the FSTs in Pennsylvania; but, if you do, your performance on these tests can be used against you. Police officers use the FSTs to test for drug impairment just as they do for alcohol intoxication—looking for signs such as poor balance, lack of coordination, and dilated pupils.

The second way the police will usually test for the presence of drugs is through chemical testing. Under Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, you are required to submit to a blood or urine test when you get pulled over on suspicion of a drug DUI. This test will generally be performed either in a detention center or medical facility; and, if you refuse to provide a blood or urine sample, you can be charged with an implied consent violation (in addition to being charged with a drug DUI).

The third way the policy can test for drug impairment is by calling a Drug Recognition Evaluator to the scene. Drug Recognition Evaluators are police officers who have received special training focused on identifying signs of drug use and intoxication.

3. Possible Defenses to Drug DUI Charges in Pennsylvania

While the police and prosecutors have a variety of ways to prove that a person was driving under the influence of drugs, there are also a variety of possible defenses to drug DUI charges in Pennsylvania. For example, depending on the circumstances of your case, a Philadelphia defense lawyer may be able to help you assert defenses including:

  • You Were Not Impaired – If you have been charged with an impairment-based drug DUI, your lawyer may be able to argue that the prosecution’s evidence is insufficient to prove impairment. While poor balance, lack of coordination, and dilated pupils are all potential signs of drug use, they can be symptomatic of various other medical conditions as well.
  • Your Blood or Urine Sample is Inconclusive – If there is any chance that your blood or urine sample was tainted or that the testing device or methodology used was unreliable, this could provide a defense to a per se drug DUI.
  • The Police Violated Your Rights – If the police profiled you or otherwise violated your constitutional rights, then the prosecution’s evidence against you may be inadmissible in court. Without evidence, the prosecution won’t be able to secure a conviction even if you were driving under the influence of drugs.

Discuss Your Drug DUI Case with Philadelphia Defense Lawyer Brian Fishman

Are you facing a drug DUI charge under Pennsylvania law? If so, you need to discuss your case with an experienced DUI lawyer right away. To speak with Philadelphia defense lawyer Brian Fishman about your case in confidence, call 267-758-2228 or tell us how we can reach you online now.