If I’m Going to the Emergency Room, Is DWI Excusable?

Although we often refer to DWI as “drunk driving,” the reality is that alcohol does not have to play any part in the offense. You can be legally “intoxicated” due to the presence of drugs in your system. This includes prescription medications.

But can you cite the fact your doctor told you to take certain drugs as a defense to a DWI charge? A recent Texas DWI case from Hood County, Bowen v. State, addressed this question in an unusual context. The defendant in this case is a man who was home recovering from knee surgery. After falling in the shower one afternoon, he was in what he described as “extreme pain.”

The defendant said he wanted to go to the emergency room, but was concerned about the potential cost of an ambulance ride. So instead he called 911, hoping the police would give him a ride to the hospital. When that apparently did not work, the defendant then called his doctor, who told him to take additional pain medication–specifically, Fentanyl.

In fact, the defendant was also taken several other medications as part of his recovery from the earlier surgery. The defendant called his pharmacist to ask about the potential drug interactions. The pharmacist advised the defendant to go to the emergency room immediately.

Still not wanting to pay for an ambulance, the defendant decided to drive himself to the ER. On the way, he drove off the road. While nobody else was injured, the defendant ended up in a medical coma for a week.

He also ended up charged with misdemeanor DWI for driving under the influence of his various medications. At trial, the defendant asked the judge to issue the jury what is known in Texas law as a “necessity” instruction. Essentially, this means the jury could find the defendant not guilty of DWI if it determined his conduct at the time “immediately necessary to avoid imminent harm.” In this case, the defendant argued he had to drive himself to the ER or risk dying.

The judge declined to issue the instruction. The jury found the defendant guilty. The defendant appealed, arguing he was entitled to the necessity instruction.

The Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the jury’s verdict. Under these facts, the appeals court said the defendant could not ask for a necessity instruction when his own conduct placed him at imminent harm in the first place. While nobody disputed the defendant was in the middle of a “life-threatening medical emergency,” he also “had ample time and legal options” to obtain assistance before making the decision to get behind the wheel under the influence of prescription medications. The mere fact the defendant did not want to pay for an ambulance–or simply ask a friend or family member to take him to the ER–did not create a “necessity” situation.

Where You Unfairly Arrested & Charged with DWI?

Speak with Houston DWI Lawyer Tad A. Nelson Today!

Many Texans do not realize they can be charged with DWI based solely on the use of prescription drugs. But “intoxication” can refer to any substance that impairs your ability to drive safely. If you have been charged with DWI, criminal defense attorney Tad A. Nelson can represent you in court. Contact his office today in Houston, Galveston or League City to schedule a consultation.