The Virginia Ambien DUI lawyers and Lunesta DUI attorneys at our firm have represented several clients charged with DUI who reported taking Ambien and going to sleep in their bed shortly before their arrest. Unfortunately, these types of cases have become more common over the years.
If needed we will retain the services of an expert in the field of forensic toxicology. Our expert witnesses do a tremendous job of explaining how sleep driving can occur after taking Ambien (Zolpidem) and how the person might wake up in a jail cell with no recollection of the events that occurred after taking the sleeping pill.
What is Ambien or Zolpidem?
The FDA defines “sleep driving” as “driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.” Several sedative-hypnotic products can cause sleep driving including Ambien, Rozerem, Sonata, and Lunesta. Although “sleep driving” is extremely dangerous, it is not illegal as a “DUI” under Virginia law.
Under Virginia’s DUI statute, three types of substances or a combination of these three substances can cause DUI impairment:
- Alcoholic beverages;
- Certain chemical substances
- Certain chemical substances you have no prescription for.
Zolpidem which is sold under the brand name Ambien (zolpidem tartrate) is not listed as a controlled substance under Alabama DUI laws. Additionally, Ambian (Zolpiedem) does NOT qualify as a chemical substance or an alcoholic beverage.
So far Virginia DUI laws have not yet expanded the definition of substances causing impairment under the DUI statute to include Ambien. Because Ambien is used right before bedtime, individuals driving under its influence is rare. Unlike alcohol or recreational drugs, it is not used to create a “high” or while people are partying. Arguable, the impairment is caused by being asleep, not by the intoxicating effects of the substance.
Impairment from Ambien While Driving is not a “DUI” In Virginia
DUI specifically requires proof beyond all reasonable doubt of impairment from alcohol, or a qualifying chemical or controlled substance. Although Ambien, on a rare occasion, might cause a person to drive while half asleep and half awake it does not meet the definition of DUI under Wisconsin’s current DUI laws.
In these cases, the arresting officer might say that he also smelled alcohol making it very difficult to distinguish between the impairment caused by alcohol verses the impairment caused by the fact the person was half asleep and half awake. In a DUI case involving alcoholic beverages, the jury instructions require proof beyond all reasonable doubt that the Defendant was under the influence of alcoholic beverages to the extent that his or her normal faculties were impaired.
The jury is also told that the term “normal faculties include but are not limited to the ability to see, hear, walk, talk, judge distances, drive an automobile, make judgments, act in emergencies and, in general, to normally perform the many mental and physical acts of our daily lives.”
Other types of impairment, although extremely dangerous, would also not qualify a “DUI.” For instance, a person can be impaired from too much caffeine, extreme fatigue that is not induced by medication, a seizure, extreme emotional distress, or being distracted by a cell phone or text message.
Although these behaviors could be dangerous and might qualify as a criminal offense under another statute, they would not qualify as DUI despite the fact that some type of “impairment” was found.
What is Sleep Driving?
In many of these cases a person takes the sleeping pill and then while partially asleep, unknowingly partially wakes up and engages in some routine behavior such as eating, walking or even grabbing the car keys and walks to their car to drive away. Sleep driving is a well documented phenomenon which is similar to sleep-walking.
In many of these cases, the person is stopped for suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. The person is often only semi-clothed or in their pajamas and appears to be disoriented.
Ambien (Zolpidem) can cause memory loss and amnesia. After these incidents, the person might have no recollection of driving or the initial contact with the officer. Instead, the person describes “walking up in a jail cell” with no recollection of how they ended up being arrested for DUI. Many witnesses to the phenomenon describe the person as being in a sleep like trance.
In these cases, the impairment is not caused by a “high” from the Ambien and or Lunesta. Instead, the impairment is caused because the person is actually partially asleep although their eyes are open and they are driving a vehicle. The person experiences a “dissociative” reaction when certain neural connections are blocks and signals from the brain stem and sub-cortical areas are deactivated. In these cases, the person is essentially half asleep and half awake.
Even the FDA Recognizes DUI Ambien may be an “Involuntary” Act
In 2007, the FDA ordered drug manufacturers of Ambien and similar sedative-hypnotic drugs to warn users of the side effect of “sleep walking” or “sleep driving.” The warning can be found on the bottle label and also on the medication guide that is included with the prescription.
Finding a DUI Attorney Involving Impairment from Ambien
If you were arrested for a DUI or another type of felony or misdemeanor involving impairment from Ambien or Zolpidem in Wisconsin then contact our experienced Virginia Ambien DUI lawyers. We represent clients throughout Wisconsin including Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Kenosha and the surrounding areas for a variety of different types of DUI cases involving alcohol, drugs or prescription medications.
Click here now to talk to a Virginia Ambien DUI defense attorney.