Recently the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled on the case State v. Dailey, and this ruling raises the legal question whether a person accused of DUI can defend herself by arguing she didn't know she was committing a DUI.
The DUI offense is typically defined as a “strict liability” crime, meaning a person can be guilty of the offense even though they never intended to commit the crime. For drug related DUI's, the law states that it is not a defense that the person became impaired after taking a prescribed medication.
But the issue can arise in some cases whether a person had knowledge that a prescribed medication can cause impairment. In 1965, the Washington State Supreme Court, in the case Kaiser v. Suburban Transportation System, wrote,
“We do not think that one who innocently takes a pill, which is prescribed by a doctor, can be convicted of a crime … unless he has knowledge of the pill's harmful qualities. To hold otherwise would be to punish one who is not culpable.”
In Dailey, the prosecution asked the Court to abandon the Kaiser ruling. The Court declined, writing, ”[T]his court is not in a position to declare that the modern [DUI] statute makes such knowledge irrelevant.” The Court ultimately concluded that the burden should be on the defendant, and not the prosecutor, to prove whether the defendant knew that a drug could cause impairment.
We live in an age where many people take prescribed medications for a variety of ailments. We may not always know all the side effects for these drugs, and we may not receive adequate information from our medical providers about the consequences for taking a new drug. The good news is that the Court's clear affirmation of the Kaiser decision means that person's accused of medication-based DUI charges can have the chance to prove the truth of their case to a jury, and protect their innocence.