Recent Iowa Supreme Court case discusses elements of proof in OUI prescription drugs charge

Proving a charge of OUI drugs in Massachusetts is a difficult task for prosecutors; cases involving prescription drugs can be very difficulty as usually the Commonwealth does not have evidence of the time of ingestion and the impact on your ability to operate a motor vehicle.

The Supreme Court of Iowa recently discussed the issue of OUI charges when the driver is on prescription drugs in Iowa v. Schories.

In Iowa v. Schories, the defendant was pulled over by a police officer for erratic driving. When the officer approached the vehicle, he noticed the defendant had blood shot eyes, had trouble paying attention and had an empty needle in his car.

The officer proceeded to give the defendant a field sobriety test and the defendant did show some signs of intoxication and the officer found methadone pills in the defendant’s pocket. The defendant had a prescription for the methadone but the officer arrested him and brought him to the station. The defendant did not have any alcohol in his system but did test positive for the methadone but no other drugs. The amount of methadone in the defendant’s system was not disclosed, but defendant was convicted for an OUI.

The Iowa Supreme Court overturned this conviction. The court ruled that to obtain an OUI for a drug that a defendant has to use a prescription drug in a way or in excess to what the Dr. prescribed and then drive. The evidence and testimony from the defendant’s Dr. shows that he never ran out of pills early and followed all directions by the Dr. and pharmacist.

The prosecution relied on three things to shows that the defendant was not using the methadone as prescribed by the doctor: The erratic driving, the warning on the drug and the needle in the car. The first argument was that the driving was so reckless and performed so poorly on the tests that the defendant must have had excess methadone than the usual dose. However, the amount of methadone was not brought into evidence so there was not enough evidence to show the defendant took more methadone than prescribed.

Next, the prosecutor argued there was a warning on the drug not to drive until feeling ready because of the side effects like dizziness. The prosecution stated because his driving was so poor the defendant clearly wasn’t ready to drive. The court ruled that this was not enough evidence to show the defendant abused the prescription as many people drive in the manner that the defendant did with or without drugs.

Finally, the prosecution argued the needle shows the defendant injected the drugs which is not a manner allowed by the Dr. However, the court ruled that the existence of a needle does not prove injection. It was no defendant’s car and the needle could have been for a variety of reasons because there was no proof what drug was in the needle.

The decision of the Iowa Supreme Court is helpful authority for a Massachusetts OUI drugs lawyer defending a charge based on ingestion of prescription drugs. These cases are often difficult to prove and present substantial hurdles for the Commonwealth in overcoming the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

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