Driving a vehicle is an inherently dangerous activity, and one that can lead to serious injury, damage, or death if not done properly. Driving becomes particularly dangerous when an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel. Because of this, all states have adopted strict laws that criminalize driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, known as driving under the influence, or DUI. (The offense is often also called DWI, or driving while intoxicated.)
For information on driving under the influence of alcohol, see Felony DUI: Alcohol.
While many, if not most, DUI cases involve people under the influence of alcohol, the crime can also involve those under the influence of drugs. Further, these crimes can be charged as a felony if specific conditions are present. However, state laws on DUI differ significantly, especially when it comes to potential punishments.
A drug DUI can occur regardless of whether a person is intoxicated from illegal or legal drugs. State laws define "drug" in a number of ways, but any substance that can affect your nervous system or affect your ability to drive will qualify as a drug. The definition also includes any drug that would not normally impair your ability to drive but, when combined with alcohol, has a potentially intoxicating effect.
If you're pulled over while under the influence of drugs, the police can test you to determine if drugs are in your system. Any presence of an illegal drug can lead to a DUI charge even if you do not feel intoxicated or affected by the substance. However, if you're on legal or prescription drugs, these too can lead to a DUI charge. If you fail a field sobriety test and are on legal drugs, or if you are on drugs known to cause impairment, you can also be charged with a DUI.
Drug DUI crimes are often charged as misdemeanors, though felony charges are also possible if certain factors are present. The difference between a misdemeanor and felony crime is that a felony is more serious, involving the possibility for a lengthier incarceration sentence and stiffer fines.
The penalties for a felony DUI crime are more significant than they are for a misdemeanor offense. Felony DUIs involve the possibility of substantial fines, incarceration, as well as license suspensions and other penalties. However, because state laws differ so widely, the specific penalties for convictions can differ significantly.
You face serious consequences any time you are charged with driving under the influence of drugs. A felony conviction will not only result in significant penalties, but will seriously impact your ability to carry on a normal life. Not only will your ability to drive be restricted, but being convicted of a felony will follow you for the rest of your life, making it harder to find a job or even rent an apartment. You need to speak to a local criminal defense lawyer as soon as you're charged with any DUI crime. Your ability to defend yourself against the charges against you will depend on receiving advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws of your state, as well as from one who has experience dealing with area police, prosecutors, and courts. You should speak to a criminal defense attorney immediately after you're arrested or charged, as any delay could damage your case and make it harder to protect your rights.