Driving Under the Influence of a Prescription Drug

As my earlier articles have explained, under the Illinois DUI statute, a motorist can be arrested for, charged with, and convicted of, a DUI for the use of legally prescribed drugs. The relevant portion of 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(4) provides; “[a] person shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle within this State while…under the influence of any other drug or combination of drugs to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely driving.” (West 2012). The Illinois DUI statute further adds “[t]he fact that any person charged with violating this Section is or has been legally entitled to use… other drug or drugs…shall not constitute a defense against any charge of violating this Section.” 625 ILCS 5/11-501(b) (West 2012).

In a recent DUI prescription drug case, the Fifth District Appellate Court addressed the use of prescription drugs before operating a motor vehicle. The case of People v. Bradley involved the arrest of a motorist for driving under the influence of Alprazolam, a prescription drug more commonly known under the brand name of Xanax. 2016 IL App (5th) 150177. Officers observed the defendant cross the centerline of the roadway three times and stop his vehicle partly into an intersection. Id. ¶ 5. The defendant explained that it was a long day and he was tired after his earlier trip to his doctor in St. Louis. Id. ¶ 6. The officer did not smell the odor of alcohol on the defendant’s breath and he did not observe slurred speech or bloodshot eyes. Id. ¶ 7. The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test disclosed no impairment. Id. However, the defendant failed the Walk and Turn and One Legged Stand test. Id. The defendant was arrested, taken to the hospital, and subsequent blood testing disclosed the presence of alprazolam in his blood. Id. at 8. The motorist had a valid prescription for Xanax. Id. ¶ 11. The District Court rescinded the summary suspension that was imposed based upon the defendant’s lawful use of a controlled substance relative to the Controlled Substances Act. Id. ¶ 12.

On appeal, the Appellate Court sent the matter back to the District Court for further hearing. Id. ¶ 25. The Court, reviewing relevant case law, found that “[I]f a person has any amount of drug in his breath, blood or urine resulting from the use of a controlled substance listed in the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, the defendant must show more than just a valid prescription for the drug to make the use of it while driving a motor vehicle lawful.” Id. at 21; See People v. Rodriguez, 398 Ill. App. 3d 436, 444-445 (1st Dist. 2009); People v. Vente, 2012 IL App (3d) 100600, ¶ 13. “[T]he defendant needs to show more than the existence of a prescription for a controlled substance to obtain rescission of a statutory summary suspension. To make a prima facie case for rescission, the defendant must also show the terms of the prescription and that he complied with the terms of the prescription, thereby making his use of the controlled substance lawful.” Brantley, 2016 IL App (5th) 150177, ¶ 21.

The Court then remanded the matter to the district court for further hearing. Id. ¶ 25 “Under the circumstances, the case should be remanded to allow the defendant the opportunity to present evidence to show that he complied with the prescription and could safely drive, and the State the opportunity to present evidence to negate the defendant’s claim and justify the suspension.” Id. ¶ 23.

This case illustrates the importance of fully fleshing out these issues at hearing in the district court.

For more information about this or any other area of criminal or traffic law please contact the author, James R. Doer, of Lavelle Law, at (847) 705-7555.