Prescription Drug Defense and License Supsensions

Does the prescription drug defense apply to license suspension proceedings for operating while intoxicated cases?  That was the question that the Iowa Supreme Court had to answer in its recent opinion in Bearinger v. Iowa Department of Transportation.  Their answer – "Yes."

For the last five years or so it has been the Iowa Department of Transportation and Iowa Attorney General's argument that the prescription drug defense applicable to criminal operating while intoxicated cases did not apply to the license revocation proceedings arising out of the same facts.  In other words, the State contended that if a person was driving a motor vehicle while taking a prescription drug and a chemical test came back positive for that prescription drug, their driving privileges had to be suspended for operating while intoxicated even if they proved that they were taking the prescription as required by their physician or pharmacist.  It was an absurd position for the State to take but they took it none the less to the detriment of hundreds if not thousands of otherwise law abiding drivers.

Thankfully the Iowa Supreme Court reined in the DOT's misapplication of the prescription drug defense and concluded that it could indeed be used in license suspension proceedings.  After thoroughly analyzing the statutory language and relevant provisions of the Iowa Code, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded: "It would be absurd to deny such drivers the prescription-drug defense in revocation proceedings."

A person wanting to use the prescription drug defense must establish the following:

  1. The drug detected was prescribed to the person;
  2. The person took the prescription in accordance with the directions of a medical practitioner or pharmacist;
  3. There is no evidence of alcohol consumption along with the medication; and
  4. The medical practitioner or pharmacist had not directed the person to refrain from operating a motor vehicle.