Drugged driving is a type of driving under the influence in Tennessee

Tennessee drivers should seek legal representation to fight for fair treatment as early as possible because the negative consequences of a conviction for drugged driving can be very severe.

Tennesseans may remember the recent conviction of a Knoxville woman for aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular assault in a 2017 accident in which she had crossed the center line and collided with another vehicle. The driver of the other car died, and the passenger sustained injuries.

A blood test revealed that the woman had been driving with a dangerous level of alprazolam (Xanax), a prescription drug used for anxiety disorders. Symptoms of an overdose can include confusion, loss of coordination, extreme sleepiness, muscle weakness, lightheadedness and fainting, according to drugs.com.

WVLT.TV reported that she had two previous DUI convictions and had agreed to enter a plea agreement for a 15-year prison sentence. This case illustrates the seriousness of a conviction for drugged driving in Tennessee.

Driving under the influence of an intoxicant

In Tennessee, there is one driving-under-the-influence statute for both driving under the influence of alcohol and under the influence of drugs. The wording of the statute is very broad, reaching a wide range of intoxicants. DUI is a crime in and of itself and depending on the circumstances, other crimes may be charged as in the case just described.

In Tennessee, law enforcement takes driving under the influence of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and other intoxicants extremely seriously. For example, Tennessee law enforcement personnel may take a certification program to become a "drug recognition expert" (DRE), an officer with training in recognizing drivers who are under the influence of drugs. They receive instruction on the difference between a person under the influence of a drug versus someone showing symptoms of a medical problem or mental disorder.

Even a DRE, however, can make a mistake and must make subjective judgments.

Of course it is important to keep people off the roads who are impaired from drug use to keep everyone safe, but in the zeal to meet this goal, sometimes police cast too wide a net and drivers are wrongly accused of drugged driving or officers violate their legal rights during the arrest process.

Prescriptions and DUI

Many people may think that if they have a valid prescription for a medication that they cannot be convicted of DUI. This is not the case. Having a prescription for a medication is not a valid defense to driving under the influence. Even if someone is taking a medication as prescribed by their doctor, if they are impaired by the medication, he or she can be charged with, and even convicted, of DUI. It is important that you discuss with your doctor whether or not you should drive while taking medication and to follow any warnings against driving or operating heavy machinery.

Legal representation

For these reasons and because a DUI conviction has immediate and lifelong negative ramifications, getting a DUI lawyer involved early is so important after a traffic stop or accident in which you have been accused of or investigated for drugged driving.

An experienced criminal defense attorney will fight to protect your legal and constitutional rights and advocate hard for a positive outcome. They will conduct an extensive investigation on your behalf. The lawyer may be able to keep charges from being filed or get them dismissed. If a plea makes sense, they will negotiate for an outcome in your interest. Should the matter go to trial, legal counsel will advocate for you in the courtroom, at sentencing, and on appeal, if necessary.

The criminal defense attorneys at Summers, Rufolo & Rodgers in Chattanooga represent people accused of drugged driving, DUI and related crimes in southeastern Tennessee.