Operating under the influence of drugs (also known as OUI-Drugs) is a serious crime and a conviction will cause serious, long-lasting criminal and administrative penalties.
Elements of OUI-Drugs
There are three elements that the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to convict a defendant of operating under the influence of drugs. The Commonwealth must prove the defendant:
In most cases alleging OUI-Drugs, the Commonwealth can easily prove the first two elements. Most OUI-Drugs cases result from police officers stopping motor vehicles, and it’s therefore obvious that the defendant was operating a motor vehicle on a public road. The issue at most OUI-Drugs trials is whether the driver was under the influence of some sort of drug.
Under the Influence of Drugs is a legal term indicating that a driver’s ability to operate safely was impaired by the ingestion of drugs. How does a police officer determine if a motorist is under the influence? Usually the first clue is the manner in which the defendant was driving. A police officer will usually stop any car that is speeding, weaving, crossing over a double yellow line or fog line, or otherwise driving “erratically.” If the driver smells like marijuana, appears disoriented or lethargic, has pinpoint pupils, or has bloodshot eyes, the police officer will request that the driver perform field sobriety tests. Some police officers are specially trained as “drug recognition experts” to analyze drivers’ performance on the field sobriety tests to determine if they are under the influence of drugs. Tests that are commonly given are:
If, according to the police officer, the motorist failed at least one of the field sobriety tests, he or she will probably be arrested for operating under the influence of drugs.
Drug Recognition Expert
Unlike OUI-Alcohol cases, in cases charging OUI–Drugs, a drug recognition expert will usually be called to testify at trial. Virtually every juror will be familiar with the symptoms of someone who has been drinking alcohol, and an expert is therefore not needed. However, most jurors will not understand the symptoms that result from someone who has been using drugs. Therefore, the drug recognition expert will tell the jury why the symptoms observed by the arresting police officer (like pinpoint pupils, for example) suggest that someone is under the influence of drugs.
Defending the “Under the Influence” Element
When the prosecutor is questioning the police officer at trial, the officer’s observations of the car’s operation and description of the motorist’s performance on the field sobriety tests will sound damning. However, Attorney Spring will attack the officer’s conclusions on cross-examination with these arguments:
Attorney Chris Spring has won OUI-Drugs cases by making these arguments to the jury.
Any conviction for OUI-Drugs will trigger a license suspension and result in pricy fines and fees. The defendant will also be required to participate in a lengthy substance abuse education course. If the defendant is convicted again for any type of OUI case, more serious penalties will be imposed, including possible mandatory jail time.