Unintentional DUI in Florida: Can You “Accidentally” Drive Under the Influence?

Proof of intent is an essential part of many criminal cases. With theft, for example, the prosecuting attorney must prove that you intentionally took or attempted to take property that did not belong to you. But what about DUI? Can you face criminal charges for driving under the influence—even if you did not intentionally commit this crime?

The short answer is an unfortunate yes. But there is more to this topic. We’ll take an in-depth look at DUI in Florida and how prescription drugs could make a person commit an “accidental” DUI.

Prescription Drug Side Effects & DUI

Some prescription medicines and even over-the-counter drugs can have side effects that affect judgment, impair vision, induce sleepiness, and cause a host of other problems that would make it difficult to operate a motor vehicle. As drivers, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves by reading labels and dosage instructions. These should clearly state whether a certain medication will impair driving. Many say something to the effect of, “Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medicine.”

According to the FDA, the following may affect driving abilities:

  • Anxiety medications
  • Anti-seizure drugs
  • Antipsychotics
  • Opioid pain relievers
  • Certain cold remedies
  • Some allergy medications
  • Sleeping pills
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Certain medications containing codeine
  • Some anti-nausea medicines
  • Certain stimulants and diet pills

Although we’re responsible for checking our medication before getting behind the wheel, there are situations where the fault may not lie on our shoulders. A medication may not include a proper warning about operating heavy machinery. A doctor may fail to inform his or her patient of the potential risks and side effects associated with a medical procedure or drug. It is important to look at every part of a DUI charge before even considering an admission of guilt.

Kerry Kennedy Avoids Conviction After Unintentional DUI

Human rights activist and writer Mary Kerry Kennedy was involved in a notable case involving an unintentional DUI. She ended up beating the charge.

Kennedy was arrested in the summer of 2012 after she was found slumped over the steering wheel in her vehicle, which was stalled in a left-turn lane. She had been seen swerving and speeding, and she allegedly sideswiped a tractor-trailer. Toxicology reports showed trace amounts of zolpidem, the generic form of Ambien, in her system.

Zolpidem is used to treat short-term insomnia and can have serious side effects, including drowsiness, dizziness, grogginess, headache, and lightheadedness. It should not be taken before operating a vehicle or any type of heavy machinery.

Kennedy had been using the sedative now and again as she traveled across states and time zones fulfilling her duties as president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. She claimed she accidentally took zolpidem instead of her thyroid medication on the morning of the incident. She also claimed that she felt no adverse effects but remembered nothing after driving from her house and getting on the freeway.

Kennedy’s case went to trial. Her lawyers leaned heavily on her claims that she had accidentally taken zolpidem, showing photographs of the two pill containers (which looked identical) and the pills themselves (which looked similar). Along with the other evidence at hand, this was enough for the jury to find Kennedy not guilty of drugged driving in March 2014.

In this case, the jury found that Kennedy had not committed DUI because she accidentally took the wrong medication. But what about cases where drivers intentionally took prescription or over-the-counter medicine but did not know it was going to cause serious side effects? This opens the door to new defense strategies built on the unique circumstances of the case.

Talk to a Seasoned DUI Attorney About Your Rights

Every drug is different and will affect each patient differently. There is no way to anticipate exactly how a person will react to a prescription drug or over-the-counter medicine. In this way, you could unwittingly drive while your abilities are impaired and be arrested for DUI.

At Thomas & Paulk, P.A., we have fought for thousands of clients across Tampa and throughout Florida who have been accused of DUI and virtually every other type of criminal offense. We’ve seen it all, and we use this experience to build compelling defenses that give our clients the best possible chance at positive outcomes—even when the odds seem stacked against them.

Contact us today to find out more about your options and rights if you’ve been accused of driving under the influence. You can also find more information about prescription DUI offenses in our blog: DUI & Prescription Drugs: Is It Really Illegal?

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