Did you know you could be charged with driving under the influence without any alcohol in your system? Drugged driving is also illegal in Washington.
A common myth regarding Washington’s DUI law is that it only covers alcohol. You may assume that as long as you get behind the wheel without alcohol in your system, you will be fine. You may think you will not be pulled over by the police and arrested. However, that is far from the truth. If a police officer notices any suspicious behavior while you are driving, such as weaving in and out of lanes or violating a traffic law, then you will be pulled over. While the officer will obviously look for signs that you have been drinking, they will also look for signs that you may be under the influence of drugs.
If an officer makes a few observations that support the presumption that you are driving while on drugs, you can be arrested for drugged driving. You will most likely be charged with a DUI. However, this does not have to lead to a conviction and disastrous outcome. There are many ways to defend against drugged driving charges in Washington.
If you were arrested for driving while high in Pierce County, do not hesitate to contact a Tacoma drugged driving attorney from The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC at (253) 375-8055 or online.
What Is Drugged Driving?
Drugged driving, also known as driving high, is when you operate a vehicle while your physical and/or mental faculties are impaired due to some type of drug.
When talking about drugged driving, many people are referring to controlled substances, such as cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, Ecstasy, and marijuana. However, you can also be arrested and charged with a crime if you are impaired due to prescription drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) medications. These may include opioid painkillers, benzodiazepines, and cold medication with codeine. It does not matter that you took the medication lawfully. If it limited your ability to operate a vehicle safely, you could get into legal trouble.
You may assume that drugged driving is less of an issue than drunk driving. However, it is a serious problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), found through a 2013-14 survey that 20 percent of weekend drivers tested positive for drugs at nighttime.
Between 2007 and 2013-14, there was a 48 percent increase in weekend nighttime drivers who tested positive for THC. While a person can have THC linger in their system for days or weeks and may not be high at the time of testing, the findings do insinuate that more people are driving high and may be increasing the risk of accidents.
Washington Drugged Driving Law
Driving under the influence of drugs is illegal in Washington. Under Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 46.61.502, you can be charged with a DUI if you drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or any drug.
Washington has legislated a legal limit of THC, similar to the legal limit for your blood alcohol content (BAC). You will be charged with a DUI if you have, within two hours after driving, a THC concentration of 5.00 or higher in your blood.
Even if your THC concentration is not 5.00 or higher, you may still be charged. Prosecutors only need evidence that you were affected by marijuana, or the combination of cannabis and alcohol, to charge you with a DUI.
Under RCW 46.61.504, you can be charged with a crime if you are found to be in physical control of a vehicle while on drugs, even if you are not technically driving at the time. The same 5.00 THC concentration applies.
To learn more about Washington’s law regarding impaired driving, contact a Tacoma drugged driving attorney as soon as possible after your arrest.
Penalties for Driving Under the Influence in Washington
Most DUI charges are treated as gross misdemeanors in Washington. If your BAC was below .15 and you did not refuse the chemical tests, then you can expect your penalty to include:
- Between one and 364 days in jail
- Fines between $940.50 and $5,000
- Up to 60 months of probation
- A 90-day driver’s license suspension
- Potential installation of an ignition interlock device
However, if you have three or more prior DUI offenses within the last 10 years, related to drugs or alcohol, or you have previously been convicted of vehicular assault or homicide, then you will be charged with a Class B felony. If convicted, you face between 13 and 17 months in prison, as well as fines, probation, a license suspension, and an ignition interlock device. If you are currently facing a physical control charge and you have numerous prior offenses, you may face a Class C felony.
Marijuana and Driving
Recreational and medicinal marijuana use are legal in the state of Washington. However, it is still illegal to imbibe the drug and drive. You cannot drive while high or impaired in any way.
You may want to argue that marijuana—or one of the active ingredients, THC—does not impair your driving. The law and science disagree. Studies have found that marijuana can impair your psychomotor skills, your lane tracking abilities, and your cognitive functions. All this means you may have trouble driving straight and staying in your lane. You may have delayed reaction times. It is entirely possible that while you are high, you cannot operate a vehicle as safely as when you are not high.
If you are pulled over in Washington and suspected of drugged driving, you may be tested for alcohol and THC. Whether or not you test positive for either substance, you could face criminal charges. If there was a significant amount of THC in your body, or THC and alcohol, then a prosecutor will use this as evidence of impairment.
If you tested positive for THC after a traffic stop and arrest, call a Tacoma drugged driving attorney immediately. At The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC, we know that having THC in your system does not mean you are high. THC can linger in the body. Also, if you are a consistent marijuana user, THC builds up in your system and can be present well after you last imbibed the drug. That does not mean your abilities were impaired at the time of your arrest. Call us right away to build an aggressive defense against findings of THC in your system.
Marijuana and Drivers Under 21 Years
Marijuana is only legal for recreational use for individuals 21 years and older. If you are 20 years or younger, you are not entitled to purchase, possess, or imbibe marijuana. If you are caught driving with any THC in your system, then you will be charged with a misdemeanor.
The Dangers of Drugged Driving
The specific risks associated with drugs and driving are closely related to the drug you had in your system. Various prescription, OTC, and illegal drugs can affect you in very different ways.
Some drugs, such as benzodiazepines, can make you overly drowsy. This is extremely dangerous and increases your risk of an accident similar to alcohol. The NHTSA found there were 90,000 motor vehicle crashes that involved drowsy driving in 2015. That same year, these accidents led to 824 fatalities. Driving while drowsy and falling asleep behind the wheel because of drugs can be deadly. You will face criminal charges if you are found to be drowsy from drugs while driving.
Other drugs, such as cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine, can make you overly aggressive. You may drive recklessly or be prone to road rage while on these drugs. Speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating, failing to yield, failing to follow traffic control signs and signals all increase the risk of a crash.
Contact a Tacoma Drugged Driving Lawyer Right Away
No matter your age, the circumstances that led to the current charges, or your criminal history, you should have a skilled and experienced DUI defense lawyer by your side. Drugged driving charges do not have to be the end of the world. There are many ways to defend against these charges and to mitigate the consequences of a conviction. Let The Law Offices of Morgan Fletcher Benfield, PLLC help you fight the charges and move on from this experience.
You can reach attorney Morgan Fletcher by calling or through our online form to schedule a free initial consultation.