When the Florida legislature’s new session begins in January, lawmakers may take up two bills (one in the House and one in the Senate) that would expand the state’s DUI laws to include impairment by prescription and over-the-counter medications as well as so-called “designer drugs.”
The current laws reference alcohol and “controlled substances.” The lawmakers behind the bills are seeking to expand the definition of “controlled substances” to include the ever-widening list of designer drugs. The proposed legislation would add “any other impairing substance, or a combination thereof” to the statutes.
Legal “loophole” limits ability to prosecute, according to lawmakers
In their joint statement regarding the legislation, the two lawmakers noted that a study in Palm Beach County found that close to half of DUI cases involved some combination of controlled and non-controlled drugs. According to the study, these cases are often dismissed because there was no way to prove that the illegal drug(s) led to the driver’s impairment rather than the OTC or legally prescribed drug.
Rep. Joe Casello, who used to be a firefighter, says, “I saw firsthand the heartbreaking consequences of impaired driving and it’s time to close this loophole in our laws.” Sen. Lori Berman also referenced the need to close “a glaring loophole in Florida’s laws that [has] allowed people to avoid prosecution for impaired driving.” She said, “SB 436 and HB 271 would close that gap and protect all drivers by assuring that impaired drivers are prosecuted.”
Although the two lawmakers who introduced the bills are Democrats, who are in the minority in both houses, the bills have the support of a number of non-partisan organizations, including AAA, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
Would a new law mean more DUI arrests?
The lawmakers claim that the proposed laws wouldn’t lead to more arrests, because officers would still need probable cause that someone is impaired to make an arrest. They said, “This legislation simply enables prosecutors to address impaired driving no matter what drug is causing the driver to be impaired.” However, it’s possible that officers would be more likely to make an arrest of someone impaired by a legal substance if they could be prosecuted for it.
If you find yourself being questioned or under arrest for suspicion of DUI, it’s always wise not to answer any questions (or offer information) about what you’ve been drinking or ingesting until you’ve secured legal guidance.