CAN YOU BE FOUND GUILTY OF OVI FOR DRIVING AFTER TAKING PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION (ZOLOFT) DESPITE NOT DRINKING ALCOHOL?
The Court of Appeals near Delaware, Ohio has recently held that a driver can be convicted of OVI for taking prescription medication without any expert testimony at trial about the effects of that particular medication. State v. Curtis, 2017 Ohio 4283 (Appeal from Delaware Municipal Court).
Unlike other courts in Ohio, the Delaware court found that expert testimony is not required to establish a nexus between the prescription medication and impairment. Rather, the Delaware Municipal Court and Delaware-area Court of Appeals found that an officer can himself opine as to whether a particular prescription medication could cause impairment – without any expertise in the specific medication at issue.
Unsafe Lane Change Leads to Traffic Stop by Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper
An Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper was in uniform in a patrol cruiser when he received a dispatch about a reckless driver. The Trooper was told that the driver had trouble staying within the lane and had almost hit a guardrail and vehicles head-on. TheTrooper testified that he located a vehicle matching the description and that the vehicle made an unsafe lane change in front of a semi-truck without using a turn signal.
The Trooper pulled the driver over. While he was talking with the driver, he noticed that the driver was speaking rapidly and became “pretty defensive towards me.” The driver’s pupils were dilated and his eyes were glassy and bloodshot. The Trooper testified that based on his training, dilated eyes could be an indicator of impairment by a drug or a narcotic. The Trooper also noted that the driver further had trouble following simple instructions.
The driver told the officer he was on an antidepressant Sertraline (Zoloft), which can cause tiredness and drowsiness.
Field Sobriety Tests
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (Eye Test) – The driver told the Trooper he had a medical condition with one of his eyes. The Trooper observed three out of three clues on appellant’s good eye.
Walk and Turn – The Trooper testified that he observed eight out of eight possible clues on the walk-and-turn test. The driver forgot what to do after the turn, which the Trooper indicated was a possible sign of impairment.
One Leg Stand – The Trooper observed three out of four clues on such test.
The driver was then arrested and refused a urine test.
Officer Testifies That He Believes Driver was Under the Influence of Prescription Medication
At trial, the officer testified that he believed the driver was impaired based on his reckless driving, that he was having trouble staying in his lane, that he almost hit a guardrail, that he almost hit a car head-on, that he failed field sobriety tests, his speech was rapid and that his pupils were dilated.
Officer Connects Reckless Driving, Drowsiness with Taking Prescription Medication
In order to prove a prescription medication OVI, there must be a sufficient evidence establishing a nexus between the driver’s ingestion of Sertraline (Zoloft) and its impairment of his driving.
Other prescription medication OVI cases in Ohio have found that the prosecution must present either (1) expert testimony about the drug (Zoloft) or (2) the testimony of a person who had observed the effect of the particular drug (Zoloft in this case) on the driver. Neither of those things happened here.
However, this particular appellate court found that the testimony of an experiences police officer’s testimony that the defendant appeared to be under the influence of pain medication was also sufficient to support the OVI conviction and no expert testimony or friend testimony was necessary.
Here, the Trooper testified that he had training on determining if a driver is impaired from a drug of abuse and had investigated many prescription drug-related OVIs that involved a drug of abuse. He testified that based on his training and experience, he believed that the driver was under the influence of his prescription medicine. For example, the driver acknowledged that he felt drowsy and that drowsiness was a side effect of Zoloft.
Interestingly, other courts have come to different conclusions finding the driver not guilty or dismissing the OVI charges where there is no expert or lay testimony connecting the impairment to that particular prescription medication:
OVI Charge Overturned Where Court Found No Nexus Between Prescription Meds (N-Desmethyldiazepam, Oxazepam, and/or Temazepam) and Impaired Driving
CDL Driver Charged with OVI Involving Prescription Meds (Xanax and Lortab) Acquitted Where State Failed to Prove Nexus Between Impairment and Meds
Additional Defenses to Prescription Medication OVIs
As previously discussed, there are several potential defenses available to those who have been cited for prescription drug OVI charges.
It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you including whether your prescription medication did not impair your ability to operate a car.. If you have questions about your Columbus prescription medication-related OVI, talk to our DUI / OVI defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.