In Georgia, as in all states, laws against driving under the influence ("DUI") aren't limited just to alcohol. You can also be charged with DUI for operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs—illegal, validly prescribed, and even over-the-counter.
Georgia's drugged driving law outlines several ways a prosecutor can charge a drug-related DUI (called "DUI-Drugs"). Read on to learn about the DUI-Drugs law and the penalties for a violation.
You can be charged with DUI-Drugs if you're under the influence of any drug. Under Georgia law, you're "under the influence" if impaired to the extent that it is "less safe" for you to drive.
When prosecuting a DUI-Drugs-Less-Safe charge, the state doesn't have to prove you had a particular level of drugs in your system. So prosecution is possible even if you refused the state-administered chemical test. In lieu of test results, the state can prove its case with evidence of impairment, such as:
And it's not just illegal drugs that can lead to a drugged driving charge. Legally prescribed controlled substances and even over-the-counter medications can be the basis for a DUI-Drugs charge. Georgia law makes it clear that being legally entitled to use a drug is not a defense to a DUI-Drugs charge.
If you end up taking a chemical test and the results show you had drugs in your system, the prosecution might charge you with per se DUI-Drugs. The per se law prohibits driving with "any amount of marijuana or a controlled substance" (including drug metabolites and derivatives) in the blood or urine. The statute, however, carves an exception for drug use that's lawful (for instance, as prescribed by a doctor). In such cases, the statute permits conviction only if the use rendered the person "incapable of driving safely."
Georgia law has another DUI charge that applies to motorists who, as the result of any combination of drugs, alcohol, or inhalants, are impaired to the extent of being less safe to drive.
Example: While on patrol, Officer Tom sees Bill weaving back and forth down the highway. Officer Tom stops Bill on suspicion of DUI. Bill denies drinking but admits to having smoked marijuana several hours prior to driving. However, Officer Tom smells burning marijuana and finds a recently-extinguished joint in the car. Officer Tom also notices an open liquor bottle next to Bill's seat and can smell booze on Bill's breath. Bill refuses to take a chemical test.
Based on these facts, the prosecutor might charge Bill with:
Bill could be found guilty of any or all of these charges, even though they arise from the same incident. But if Bill is convicted of more than one charge, the convictions will "merge" for sentencing purposes. In other words, Bill can be sentenced for only one of the charges.
The criminal penalties for drugged driving are the same as those for alcohol-based DUI charges. For a first offense, the driver is generally looking at 10 days to 12 months in jail, $300 to $1,000 in fines, and a 12-month license suspension. Second offenders typically face 90 days to 12 months in jail, $600 to $1,000 in fines, and a three-year license suspension. A third offense generally carries 120 days to 12 months in jail, $1,000 to $5,000 in fines, and permanent license revocation.