Driving Under the Influence of Prescription Medication
After returning home from a long day at work, an individual took prescription Ambien and fell asleep. Later that same night, he was stopped by the police for driving erratically on the freeway and arrested for DUI. The individual claimed during the subsequent jury trial that he was not criminally liable for the DUI because he was sleep-driving and, therefore, unconscious during the incident. A person can be held criminally liable for an act only if the act is done consciously.
After both the prosecution and defense presented their evidence, the judge instructed the jury that if it found that the individual knew or had reason to know that his use of Ambien could cause sleep driving, then they can find him guilty of DUI. On the other hand, if the jury found that he did not know and could not have reasonably known that the use of Ambien could cause sleep driving, then the resulting unconsciousness would be a complete defense to driving under the influence.
DUI and Ambien
The jury found that he should have known that sleep-driving was a possible side effect of taking Ambien and found him guilty of DUI.
During the trial, the prosecutor presented a pharmacology expert who testified that Ambien is prescribed as a sleep aid and can cause drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, poor motor coordination and erratic and impulsive behavior. When it is first prescribed, pharmacists are legally required to counsel the patient about Ambien's side effects. A patient might also get a warning from their doctor. Further, when Ambien is dispensed, it comes with label and package inserts warning that it can cause dizziness and drowsiness and cautions against driving while using the drug. The expert testified that sleep-driving is a rare side effect. There have been a total of about 1000 reported cases of sleep driving while under the influence of Ambien, and it was estimated that 26 million Ambien prescriptions are written per year.
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