Was a driver too drugged to be behind the wheel because of the methadone prescription he was taking? Was just getting behind the wheel itself an act of recklessness that deserves serious prison time?
That's the question facing an Ohio jury over a car wreck that killed a Highway Patrol officer as he directed traffic near a Lakewood exit.
The defendant is charged twice over with aggravated vehicular homicide -- one count for driving while impaired and one for driving recklessly -- along with some associated other charges.
In Ohio, aggravated vehicular homicide related to the use of drugs or alcohol is a felony that carries a mandatory two- to eight-years' prison term and a lifetime suspension of the defendant's driver's license if he or she is convicted. If the charge is related to the mere reckless operation of a vehicle, it's a lesser felony that carries a one- to five-year sentence and the possibility of regaining a driver's license after only three years.
Methadone, the drug the defendant was using, is a legal narcotic. It is prescribed to people with chronic pain but also to people who have an addiction to some narcotics because it doesn't provide a typical "high" but will prevent users from going into withdrawal.
However, people on methadone have to follow their prescription instructions extremely carefully -- missing a dose can cause severe reactions. The drug can also cause some people to be too impaired to drive because of the way that their body reacts to the drug. Users are cautioned to gauge their reaction to the drug before getting behind the wheel of a car.
In this case, evidence shows that the defendant seemed impaired to both officers and eyewitnesses (including a doctor and a nurse) who observed him after the accident. In addition, there's evidence that he wasn't taking his prescription regularly -- which may have lowered his tolerance for the drug's effects. After going several days without the drug, he'd popped a methadone pill at his doctor's office just 10 minutes before the accident.
It remains to be seen what the jury will do, but the defendant is likely to face a stiff sentence if he's convicted of any of these charges.
Cases like these illustrate why it's important to understand that even a legal prescription for narcotics can lead to drug charges or worse. If you're facing a serious drug-related charge, seek legal help immediately.
Source: www.cleveland.com, "Verdict in trial of Ohio Trooper's death hinges on methadone, reckless driving arguments," Aug. 08, 2017