Winterset, Madison County, Iowa. GRL has been warning anyone who will listen NOT to disclose prescription medications to law enforcement during a traffic stop. This most recent GRL NFG demonstrates precisely why this is. GRL’s client provided a breath sample of .037 but disclosed that he was taking his non-controlled substance medication. The urine test that GRL’s client consented to confirmed the presence of only the prescription medication. A young and aggressive officer, fresh off of training for driving while drugged investigations, even with the test results, still charged GRL’s client with Operating While Intoxicated and Child Endangerment. Thankfully, GRL was able to successfully defend the case avoiding a license suspension and securing a dismissal of all charges. The case should be a practical warning to all drivers as to why GRL has always warned people NOT to disclose prescription medications to law enforcement during a traffic stop.
As a starting point, a person’s medical condition, treatment and history are personal, private and in fact, protected against disclosure to ANYONE. Laws protect against disclosure of this information without the individual’s explicit consent as does the constitution. When law enforcement asks for this information they are asking the person to waive those protections. Disclosing this information during a traffic stop, waives the privacy privilege as to the information voluntarily disclosed. Every individual has the absolute right to keep this information to themselves and cannot be penalized or punished for insisting that their privacy be respected and honored. The only answer that needs to be given to law enforcement when the prescription medication question is asked is, “that is my private medical information and I am not going to disclose that to you.”
Why does law enforcement want to know what medications a driver may be taking? Operating While Intoxicated investigations. Currently, local and national law enforcement have been ramping up efforts to apprehend individuals believed to be driving while impaired by drugs other than alcohol. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has an entire campaign focused on Drug-Impaired Driving. Funding of law enforcement agencies is tied to the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau which is tied to NHTSA and other federal highway programs. Thus, an emphasis of the United States Department of Transportation and NHTSA becomes an emphasis of Iowa law enforcement as well.
Legitimate drugged driving investigations certainly prevent tragedies from impaired driving. However, over-zealous “drugged driving” investigations have the ability to catch completely innocent drivers in a net that is cast too wide. Iowa law makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle while “under the influence” of a drug, alcohol or a combination of a drug and alcohol. “Drug” under Iowa law is defined as: “any substance, or component thereof, that is intended by the user to affect the structure or function of the body. Whether a person is “under the influence” when by consuming a substance any of the following are true: The persons mental abilities are affected, they have to any extent lost control of bodily actions or motions, their judgment is impaired or their emotions are visibly excited. As you can see, anyone, at anytime could be argued to be “under the influence” even stone sober.
The “under the influence” does have to be tied to the ingestion of a drug or alcohol, as opposed to the host of other completely innocent causes that could qualify as those behaviors. However, don’t forget, all that is necessary to arrest someone is probable cause. Probable cause or “reason to believe” is a low legal standard which, when combined with the “squishy,” subjective interpretation of “under the influence,” can quickly find a completely innocent person on the wrong side of a jail cell. Sometimes a visual example is the most effective way to demonstrate what words to not adequately describe. The video below is taken from a real life GRL case. Lets assume for purposes of this example that the officer administrating these field sobriety tests discloses that he takes prescription medications. Is there probable cause to believe he is “under the influence” of a drug?
Could it be said that he has lost control of his bodily actions or motions? Might his mental abilities be affected to the slightest degree? If you don’t know that he takes prescription medications, you would probably assume his difficulty with these tests is due to age, physical disability or just general lack of coordination. Put in the piece about ingesting substances that qualify as a drug though, the landscape changes real quick. GRL’s warning continues to be NEVER disclose any medications you are taking to a law enforcement officer during a traffic stop, unless of course there is an immediate emergent medical need.