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Pittsburgh Drugged Driving Lawyer

Most of the media attention goes to drunk driving, but various drugs impair the ability to drive every bit as much as alcohol does. And with the explosion of various drugs in our society, there is no shortage of drivers on the road who have drugs in their system. Many of the drugs we use in our society are “lawful” in the sense that they are prescribed by doctors or contained in medicine sold over the counter. Many others are examples of strictly controlled drugs that people use for the sole purpose of getting high, such as heroin and meth.

Pennsylvania’s Drugged Driving Laws

In Pennsylvania, you are guilty of drugged driving if you drive or operate a vehicle, or are actually in “physical control” of a vehicle’s movement, with:

  • Any amount of a Schedule I controlled substance in your blood
  • A metabolite of a Schedule I substance in your blood

For those offenses, the state doesn’t have to show that you were impaired; the presence of the drug or metabolite is all that’s required. Schedule I drugs include heroin and other opioids, marijuana, hallucinogens like LSD, and several other drugs.

You are also guilty of drugged driving if you are impaired by:

  • A drug or by a combination of drugs
  • Alcohol and a drug or combination of drugs

The latter two offenses require that your driving ability be impaired; the mere presence of drugs other than Schedule I controlled substances in your system is not enough.

Commercial and School Vehicles

Drugged driving by operators of commercial vehicles is prohibited in a separate section of the DUI law. It applies to commercial vehicles, school buses and other school vehicles. The prohibition applies to the same acts as the primary drugged driving law ̶ driving, operating, or otherwise physically controlling the vehicle while under the influence of:

  • A controlled substance or combination of controlled substances
  • Alcohol plus a controlled substance or substances

Testing for Drug Presence and Level

Pennsylvania follows the theory that anyone driving on the states roads has given implied consent to be tested. You can refuse to take a test or give blood to be tested, but that can cost you your driving privileges for up to 18 months, and your refusal can be used in evidence in the case. Technically, the refusal is simply considered as one piece of evidence among the many other circumstances, but it’s easy for a judge or jury to decide the refusal is conclusive, or at least indicative of your guilt. It takes a Pittsburgh drugged driving attorney with specific experience in these cases to make sure that the refusal doesn’t overwhelm every other aspect of the case.

The Department of Health publishes a list of the minimum levels of controlled substances (Schedules I, II and III) that must be present in a person’s blood for the test results to be admissible in a prosecution for violations.

Drugged Driving Penalties

Pennsylvania imposes significant penalties for the more serious traffic offenses like drugged driving. In addition to imposing heavier fines, there is the potential for considerable jail time depending on how many prior offenses you have, whether minors were in the vehicle, whether people were injured or killed because of the violation, and a host of other factors.

Defenses for Drugged Driving in Pittsburgh

In many cases, there is some question whether the facts support the state’s claim that you were driving, operating, or controlling the vehicle, as required for a drugged driving conviction. Was the vehicle stopped or in motion? If stopped, where was it stopped, and why? Pennsylvania courts look to all the circumstances in deciding whether there was actual physical control.

The legality of the stop and arrest may also be questioned. Pennsylvania has a strong interest in keeping drugged drivers off the roads, so it’s an uphill battle, but an experienced drugged driving lawyer may be able to cast doubt on the reasonableness of the officer’s belief that you were impaired, if that’s what the charge is based on, or that you had Schedule I drugs in your system, if the case is based on that rather than actual impairment.

There may even be questions about the validity of the blood testing results in some cases.

Legal Representation from an Experienced Pittsburgh Drugged Driving Lawyer

Drugged driving, like drunk driving, is always serious, and the more serious charges carry serious penalties including jail time. Loss of license can cause loss of employment and make it very hard to find new employment. The best chance of avoiding conviction and, if that’s not possible, minimizing the consequences is to obtain the help of an experienced Western Pennsylvania lawyer as early in the process as possible.

With more than 25 years of experience as a dedicated criminal defense attorney in Pennsylvania, Gary Gerson knows where the weak points are likely to be in all aspects of the prosecution’s case, from the legality of the initial stop, to the validity of the testing procedures, to the characteristics of the drugs involved. If you have been charged with drugged driving in the Pittsburgh area or anywhere Western Pennsylvania, call Gerson Law today and start on the path to putting the case behind you.

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