Does driving under the influence of prescription drugs qualify as an OVI under Ohio law? In a word, “yes.” Under Ohio’s OVI laws, if a chemical test shows that there are drugs in your system at the time you are stopped by a police officer for probable cause, prescription drugs notwithstanding, you will be arrested for driving under the influence of drugs. Prescription drugs fall in the category of “controlled substances,” and Ohio has limits on the amount of these drugs you can have in your system while you are driving. There is, however, an exception. Under Ohio law, you must have a valid prescription for the drugs; and you must have taken only the amount of drugs prescribed by your doctor before you get behind the wheel of a car.
Prescribed drugs that can cause drowsiness are labeled by the pharmacy with a precaution “not to operate” a vehicle after taking the drug. Many individuals, who have been taking their prescribed drugs for some time, do not heed this warning. Some prescription drugs may cause a driver to exhibit signs or symptoms of intoxication, but they may turn out to be false symptoms. Depending on the drug and the tolerance of the individual’s system taking the drug, some individuals may not show any signs of intoxication, at all. Moreover, the individual who has been prescribed the drug has no choice in the matter. He must take the drug or his health will fail.
For these reasons, courts are struggling with the problem of how to deal with the situation of convicting and sentencing a driver involved in a non-fatal accident while on prescription drugs.
This is a dilemma many police officers face while trying to enforce traffic laws. The senior attorney at the National Traffic Law Center states that there is a delicate balance between protecting the public from irresponsible drivers who consume alcohol and illegal drugs and then get behind the wheel of an automobile, and those people who must take prescribed drugs on a daily basis for illnesses. A few states like Ohio have codified this issue by limiting the amount of prescribed drugs an individual can have in their system at the time of their arrest.
It may be difficult to convict a driver who has been arrested for OVI DUI, who has not been involved in a fatal accident. For those that are convicted; the courts have a tendency to be a little more lenient with them.
In one particular case, the State vs. Shellard, Nicole Shellard hit and killed a bicyclist, Kathryn Underdown, while driving after taking prescription drugs. Shellard plead guilty to manslaughter and received a sentence of one and a half to four and a half years in prison. See NewYorkTimes.com and Newsday.com
The balancing act in this particular case tipped in the favor of the driver to the dissatisfaction of the victim’s family.
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