Sadly, it’s no exaggeration to say that West Virginians are all too often, patient zero in the opioid epidemic. Our state leads the nation in lethal drug overdoses, and many of us have painful stories of addiction about our friends, families-maybe ourselves. The WV criminal law courts may eventually decide who is responsible for the mess, but that’s a long way off-and will offer cold comfort to the crisis’ victims.
One of the side effects of the crisis is a law enforcement crackdown on driving under the influence. If you’ve been charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs, here are some key facts to know.
1. WV criminal law is pretty broad. West Virginia law prohibits anyone who is “is a habitual user of narcotic drugs or amphetamine or any derivative thereof” to drive, so you may be in trouble, even if your prescriptions were perfectly legal.
2. The penalties are fierce. If someone was hurt, or-God forbid-killed in an accident while you were driving under the influence, prosecutors could charge you with a felony. You could be looking at up to 15 years in prison. Even if no one was injured, you could still be convicted of a misdemeanor and have to serve up to six months in jail.
3. You could be in trouble even if you weren’t driving. The law says you’re guilty of a misdemeanor if you let someone drive your car when you knew, or should have known, that he was under the influence. There again, you face up to six months in jail and fines up to $500.
4. The standards are different than drunk driving. Unlike drunk driving’s blood alcohol level, there’s no concrete threshold of pharmaceutical use necessary to determine whether or not your driving was impaired.
5. Endangering children brings heavier penalties. If there were children in the car, you could be convicted of yet another misdemeanor-and could be facing up to 12 months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
6. Prosecutors have a ton of discretion. Given how elastic the standard for impairment is, it’ll be really important to find an attorney who is aggressive enough to fight for you, but has a good working with relationship with local prosecutors.