Ambien Overdose Leads to DUI Conviction
April 18th, 2009
Whereas it is well known that driving while impaired by alcohol is against the law, the law also criminalizes driving while under the influence of drugs. DUI/drugs can be accomplished with legal, prescribed drugs that impair the ability to drive. DUI defense attorneys are seeing more and more cases of "sleepdriving," where the driver took Ambien and later "woke up" either at the scene of his own accident or in jail, under arrest for DUI. In some of these cases, the driver was unaware that the use of Ambien could produce such a mental state. A recent decision from Pennsylvania, Riley v. Commonwealth of Virginia, (VA Court of Appeals No. 080920 - issued April 17, 2009) reviewed a felony DUI conviction that resulted from the following facts, as described by the trial judge: "The fact remains in this case the Defendant did have a long history of sleep disorders. He had a long history of what has been described as sleepwalking. A long history of bizarre behavior during those episodes. It is also I believe uncontested and clear that he took a significant overdose voluntarily of Ambien coupled with two other drugs. One of which was an antihistamine that aggravated the effects of Ambien. There's medical expert testimony. I find that he either knew or should have known what the probable consequences were or if he didn't, taking voluntarily such an overdose of a drug which he certainly knew or should have known had a lot of side effects including sleepwalking if, in fact, he was, was in itself reckless disregard. For that reason, I'm satisfied the Commonwealth has proven its case. [I f]ind the Defendant guilty of driving in a manner so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard of a human life and he did unintentionally cause serious bodily injury resulting in permanent and significant physical impairment." In Washington State, some police officers have training and call themselves "Drug Recognition Experts." In DUI/drug cases, these officers are called to perform a twelve-step investigation that is intended to reveal the presence of certain drug categories and whether the individual was impaired by the drugs. "Sleepdriving" is unique in that if the driver is essentially "unconscious" and had no plan or intent to drive. The Pennsylvania case, however, was premised upon the reckless conduct of the driver in taking an overdose of Ambien, not the prescribed amount, and then mixing it with other drugs that aggravated the effects of Ambien.