Concord Trial Attorneys

Understanding North Carolina “Drugged Driving” Charges

You may, like many others, assume that the only way to get a DUI/DWI in North Carolina is to have a few too many alcoholic beverages and climb behind the wheel. If that is the case, your assumption would be wrong. North Carolina has an “impaired driving” statute that encompasses much more than just being under the influence of alcohol.

The impaired driving law, found at North Carolina General Statutes Section 20-381.1, provides that a driver can be charged with impaired driving if he or she drives with the presence of any metabolites of any Schedule 1 controlled substance in his or her body. The statute importantly does not require actual intoxication or impairment to be caused by these substances. Their mere presence alone in a blood or urine sample is sufficient. 

A very wide range of both illegal and prescription drugs fall under the purview of the “Schedule 1 controlled substances” referenced in the impaired driving statute, including:

  • Opiates (including commonly prescribed pain medications like morphine, oxycodone, oxycontin and fentanyl)
  • Marijuana
  • Heroin, cocaine and other street drugs
  • Nervous system depressants like GHB
  • Synthetic cannabinoids/marijuana products like “Spice” or “K2”

The purpose of the law seems straightforward: to keep drivers from taking drugs and then driving under the influence. It overreaches and is vague in its wording, however. It also unfairly discriminates against people with chronic pain conditions or those who take legal drugs that can break down into metabolites chemically similar to those forbidden by statute.

The difficulties of drugged driving testing

There are, as of now, no standardized field sobriety tests for drugged driving. The traditional tests used for alcohol intoxication (horizontal gaze nystagmus, walk-and-turn, and one-legged stand, for example) are not necessarily applicable to allegations of drug-related impairment. This could lead to issues regarding the legality and reasonableness of the initial stop itself as well as the entire arrest.

In addition, these tests don’t account for physical conditions like inner ear disturbances, vertigo and arthritis that could affect balance. This, too, could lend itself to legal challenges and defenses that a skilled attorney could parlay into reduced or even dropped charges.

If you or someone you love is facing North Carolina impaired driving charges, you should be aware that a conviction brings serious consequences including:

  • Lengthy license suspension (oftentimes a year or more)
  • Jail time
  • Hefty fines
  • Court costs
  • Increased car insurance rates

Having a skilled defense attorney at your side during this difficult time gives you a statistically better chance at a positive outcome. Reach out to one in your area of North Carolina as soon as possible following an impaired driving arrest.