Are you looking at DUI charges for sleep driving on Ambien (Zolpidem) or Lunesta (Eszopiclone) in California? If so, you stand to lose a lot more than just your driving privileges if convicted. Navigating the California legal system on your own is not a wise move. You need the help of an experienced Los Angeles, California DUI defense attorney who has handled Ambien DUI cases previously.
Please contact out team of San Francisco, California Ambien DUI defense lawyers. They also handle Lunesta DUI charges and all other drugged driving charges. They offer free consultations and serve all of California including Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Irvine, Newport Beach, San Diego, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino and Riverside, California.
Sleep Driving As An Ambien DUI Defense
Sleep driving is a very dangerous premise, and it’s becoming more common. Over 60,000,000 Americans take prescription sleep aids for insomnia and other sleep disorders, according to an ABC News report this year.
Sleep driving, however, isn’t a defense to driving under the influence when a defendant voluntarily takes Ambien.
Terry Mathson was arrested for felony driving under the influence in 2008. As Mathson was a repeat offender, he was also slapped with charges for being ahabitual traffic offender, driving with a suspended or revoked license, and driving a vehicle that was not equipped with a functioning ignition interlock device while his driving privilege was restricted.
On the night he was stopped, Mathson initially denied having consumed any alcohol or drugs but, upon further questioning, told Rocklin Police Officer Jeff Kolaskey that he had taken Vicodin pills — prescribed for a back problem — earlier that day. During the interview, he never mentioned having taken Ambien or zolpidem.
Kolaskey observed that Mathson had droopy, watery and glassy eyes, slow, slurred speech and a dry mouth. Although his verbal responses made sense, Mathson’s speech was slurred and he was uneasy standing unassisted. Kolaskey, based on his observations, arrested Mathson for driving under the influence of drugs.
A blood test, administered nearly two hours after the stop, showed that Mathson had .13 milligrams per liter of zolpidem — commonly known by the brand name Ambien — in his system.
Mathson’s defense? He wasn’t criminally liable for DUI because he was sleep driving and, therefore, unconscious during the incident.
Prior to trial, Mathson filed in limine motions requesting standard or modified jury instructions on unconsciousness and involuntary intoxication, so the jury could determine whether he knew or had reason to anticipate that taking prescription Ambien could cause sleep driving.
The prosecutor filed a motion to exclude evidence of unconsciousness on the grounds that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to driving under the influence, and involuntary intoxication is not at issue where defendant intentionally took Ambien after having engaged in ambulatory behavior while asleep on prior occasions.
The court ultimately gave its own modified instructions on unconsciousness and involuntary intoxication. Mathson was convicted.
Mathson appealed, claiming that the trial court’s modified instructions on unconsciousness, voluntary intoxication, and involuntary intoxication were erroneous. Though the appellate court found that the instruction on unconsciousness was flawed, it affirmed Mathson’s conviction because the error was harmless.
With or without modified jury instructions, drivers under the influence of sleeping medications can find themselves in trouble. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in California such as Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno, Alameda, San Francisco, Oakland, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Long Beach or Riverside contact our San Bernardino California Ambien DUI lawyers.
How Ambien DUIs Differ from Alcohol Induced DUIs
When people think of DUIs, they usually conclude that a person was driving under the influence of alcohol. However, in California, a driver can be charged with a DUI if he/she operates a motor vehicle under the influence of Ambien. Ambien is a prescribed medication used to treat insomnia. A common side effect of Ambien is people engaging in activities while sleep. Ambien users often have no recollection of the activities they engaged in while sleep. Taking Ambien to treat a sleep disorder can be dangerous. Read on to learn more about how Ambien DUIs differ from alcohol induced DUIs.
Alcohol Induced DUI
In order to be charged with a DUI in California, the driver must operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. A police officer will use an assortment of chemical tests to determine a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC). If a driver’s BAC is above the legal limit, he/she will be charged with a DUI.
Alcohol DUIs are intentional. This means a driver intentionally committed the act of driving under the influence. In regards to Ambien users, most do not intend to sleep drive while taking the drug. The penalties for alcohol and Ambien DUIs are similar. Regardless, contact our San Jose California Ambien DUI defense attorneys to discuss your case.
Ambien Induced DUI
Ambien users are often subject to sleep driving. Sleep driving is similar to sleep walking. It occurs when a person is operating a vehicle while not fully awake. While under the influence of Ambien, a person may have no memory of operating a motor vehicle while sleep. The FDA defines sleep driving as “driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.” Warnings are placed on Ambien packaging to warn users of its dangerous side effects.
If you are arrested for driving under the influence of Ambien, you may face criminal penalties. In California, Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it a crime to drive under the influence of prescribed drugs that affects a person’s nervous system. Criminal penalties for driving under the influence of Ambien are similar to alcohol DUI penalties. A major difference between alcohol and Ambien DUI cases arises with defenses.
A driver can only be criminally prosecuted for a crime in which he/she voluntarily engaged in a criminal act. For example, if a person consumed alcohol and got behind the wheel to drive, he/she could be charged with drunk driving. In the context of Ambien users, most people who take Ambien do not intend to sleep drive. Most Ambien users have no memory of driving. This allows an Ambien user to plead an involuntary defense to the alleged crime. This defense rarely applies in alcohol related DUI cases.
California DMV Hearings & Ambien DUI Cases
In California, when a driver is charged with a DUI (alcohol or drug related), his/her driver’s license will be immediately suspended. Law enforcement will confiscate the driver’s license and provide him/her with a temporary 30-day license. The driver will have 10 days from the date he/she is issued the temporary license to request an administrative hearing with the DMV. The hearing will provide the driver the opportunity to protest the pending license suspension.
For a first-time DUI offender, a driver’s license will be suspended up to 6 to 10 months. A driver’s license will be suspended up to one year if the driver refused to take a chemical test. The license may also be suspended for a longer period if the driver was previously convicted for drunk driving within ten years of the new charge. Note, the administrative proceeding is separate from the criminal proceeding. We highly recommend you obtain legal counsel to represent you. An experienced attorney can help have the DUI charge asserted against you reduced or completely dismissed. The attorney can also challenge the evidence presented at the administrative hearing and help you get your driving privileges reinstated.
At the administrative hearing, the judge will examine the following evidence in determining whether to grant a license suspension:
- Whether the police officer has reasonable suspicion to stop your vehicle.
- Whether the police officer had probable cause to arrest you for impaired driving.
- Whether you voluntarily consumed Ambien prior to operating a motor vehicle.
- Whether you understood the implied consent warning provided by the officer.
It is best to immediately file a claim to have your driver’s license reinstated prior to the settlement of your criminal matter. For example, if you are convicted of a DUI for Ambien, evidence regarding the guilty verdict can be reviewed during the administrative hearing. It is best to lessen the impact the criminal matter will have on your administrative hearing.
In the criminal matter, the prosecution will have the burden to prove that you were impaired while driving. The burden of proof is easier satisfied in a DMV proceeding than a criminal case. The prosecution must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the arresting officer had a reasonable belief that you were driving under the influence of Ambien. In addition, the evidence must prove that you were lawfully arrested and you refused to take the chemical test.
The consequences of an administrative hearing can be severe. Do not attend the hearing without first consulting with an experienced attorney. We can work with you to reduce or eliminate the consequences associated with refusing a chemical test. Do not delay in requesting a hearing before the DMV. Doing so could jeopardize your privilege to drive for up to one year. Having your license suspended may also raise your insurance rates. Contact us today for a consultation. We can review your case and provide you with legal guidance on how to handle both your criminal and civil law matter.
Contact Our Sacremento California Ambien DUI Attorneys
Contact our law office for a consultation if you have been charged with an Ambien DUI. We can review your case and help reduce the charge asserted against you to reckless driving, or have your case dismissed completely. Do not delay in obtaining legal counsel. Doing so could result in additional criminal penalties. To discuss your case please reach out to our Los Angeles Ambien DUI defense legal team. They offer free consultations to those facing Ambien DUI charges throughout all of California.
Our team of California Ambien DUI lawyers and Lunesta DUI attorneys serve the entire state including Los Angeles, West Covina, San Dimas, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Napa Valley, Riverside, Indio, San Bernardino, San Gabriel Valley, Irvine, Carlsbad, Newport Beach, Corona, Fresno, Long Beach, Bakersfield, Santa Ana, Anaheim, Stockton, Chula Vista, Fremont, Modesto and Oxnard, California.