What Does the Georgia Law Say About DUI Drugs?
Driving under the influence covers driving while impaired by alcohol and by drugs, whether legal or illegal. Although Georgia DUI statutes have specific blood alcohol levels that provide evidence of intoxication—0.02 for young drivers under the age of 21; 0.08 for drivers over 21; and 0.04 for commercial truck drivers—there are no such specifics for drugs found through blood and urine tests. Let’s take a look at the Georgia statute and how a conviction for DUI drugs is much harder for prosecutors when the driver is represented by an experienced and skilled DUI defense lawyer.
Georgia’s DUI Statute, O.C.G.A. sec. 40-6-391 covers driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs. What constitutes DUI drugs is not based on measurable specifics, as is alcohol. Instead, the statute speaks of whether the driving is less safe due to the use of drugs.
- A person shall not drive while under the influence of any drug to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive.
- A person shall not drive under the influence of a combination of substances (i.e., drugs and alcohol) to the extent that it is less safe for the person to drive.
- A person cannot be under the influence of prescription drugs, even if a drug or drugs are prescribed legally. However, in order to uphold a conviction, the State must prove that such legally prescribed medication rendered the individual incapable of driving safely.
What Does a Blood or Urine Test Reveal?
The biggest hurdle the prosecution has to jump is the imperfection of blood and urine tests. These tests, which are administered at the police station or hospital, either by consent or under the authority of a warrant, merely measure whether there were any drugs in the driver’s system.
The tests can identify the presence of drugs and name them. However, they do not measure the current amount of drugs and whether the drugs were still active and capable of causing intoxication. A joint smoked last week, or a pill taken last night, will show up in the blood and urine tests, but whether their psychoactive ingredients were still operating is not revealed by these tests.
Police Must Rely on Subjective Observations and Imperfect Testing to Prove DUI Drugs
Police officers must, therefore, rely on observations and so called, indicators of impairment, to determine whether the driver was operating a vehicle in a less safe manner. This is inherently subjective and vulnerable to multiple defense strategies.
At the time of a vehicle stop, the police officer first relies on observations of how the car or truck was being driven. Did the driver do any of the following?
- Engage in unpredictable acceleration or braking
- Swerve across any traffic lanes or driving down the white line
- Engage in unsafe maneuvers, like lane changing without signaling or without any visible reason
- Appear distracted, unaware of other cars and trucks
- Drive much slower than surrounding traffic
These observations are the reasons commonly given by police for stopping a vehicle suspected of DUI Drugs.
Once stopped, you are only under an obligation to produce your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Although you need to obey the directions of the police, you are entitled to remain silent and not to answer any further questions. You might be asked to perform a variety of field sobriety tests.
You can refuse to take these tests, although that refusal will likely result in your immediate arrest. A field sobriety evaluation is voluntary. To refuse the field sobriety test is not considered a DUI refusal.
There are several types of field sobriety evaluations: a Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test, a Walk and Turn, and the One-Leg Stand test. In addition, officers might ask you to recite the alphabet, stand with your feet close together while tipping your head skyward, count the number of fingers the officer has raised, close your eyes and touch a finger to your nose, or count backwards. These tests are quite subjective. Different officers interpret a driver’s performance differently.
For example, the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test (HGN) measures involuntary eye movements which become jerky when a person has consumed alcohol or central nervous system depressants, which include opioids, sedatives, and other “downers.”
To administer the HGN Test, the police officer must perform a medical evaluation to screen for medical disorders that might also cause these jerky eye movements. To screen, the police must ask very specific questions about your health and medical history. Again, you are under no legal obligation to cooperate. Refusing to answer these questions is not considered DUI Refusal, meaning that you will not automatically lose your driving privileges, but you might be immediately arrested and taken to the station.
This subjectivity undermines the accuracy of the test. Any number of factors can contribute to failing a field sobriety evaluation: an uneven pavement, the time of day, weather conditions, your health, poor vision or hearing, and poor balance. There are no legal consequences attaching to a refusal to perform field sobriety evaluations. However, the results of any field sobriety tests will be noted in the police report and can be used to justify arrest.