Is there such a thing as the Ambien defense in a DUI case?

Let’s say for the past several months you have been having difficulty sleeping. You have tried everything and nothing seems to work. You finally decide to speak with a Doctor and you get a prescription for Ambien. You read the warnings on the bottle that say the drug can cause you to eat, have sex or drive without knowing it and no memory. But you don’t pay any attention to it thinking it’s not really applicable. However after a few weeks of taking the prescription you wake up inside your car. To your shock you were in a car accident, police are questioning you about a DUI, and you’re wondering what the hell happened.

This is called “sleep driving.” And is more common than you may think. Sleep driving” is defined by the FDA as “driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event”. Ambien and other popular sleeping medications like Lunesta are sedative-hypnotic products that can cause this condition.

Sleep driving while under the influence of Ambien or Lunesta occurs after you take the medication, go to sleep, unknowingly wake up, start sleep-walking, and then drive a car. It’s a growing danger with more and more people getting charged with this type of DUI offense in Seattle or Washington State.

The interesting thing about this is even though you are sleep driving and completely unaware of your actions this is illegal. Let me repeat that this is illegal and the police consider this is a DUI and you will be facing a DUI arrest. If you use Ambien, Lunesta or any other “sedative-hypnotic” medication and then drive whether you mean for it to happen or not you will face a DUI. That is the bottom line.

So what can you do if you find yourself in this boat. In Washington State if your facing a DUI charge and this situation is applicable to you the “Ambien Defense” may be available. The DUI laws in Washington State punishes voluntary intoxication NOT involuntary. Involuntary intoxication is intoxication resulting from force or fraud, or from the medicinal use of drugs.

Generally when a person is prescribed a drug by a physician which causes intoxication, that intoxication is involuntary even where the patient is prescribed or inadvertently takes an overdose and even when an overdose is administered to a party by a person not a physician. Thus involuntary intoxication is a defense to a DUI charge if the defendant consumed drugs by force or fraud or is mistaken as to the nature of the intoxication. The defendant has the burden of proving this defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Meaning it is more probably true than not true.

Obviously there is more to this that what I have written in this blog. But this is basically the gist of it. An expert is needed for this type of Defense and an experienced Seattle DUI lawyer is needed to persuasively argue this defense to the jury. If you have been arrested for DUI and you believe this defense is available to you feel free to contact Leyba Defense PLLC for a consultation.

About the author: Matthew Leyba is a Seattle Bellevue DUI lawyer. His practice focuses on representing those charged with DUI and other traffic offenses.