There are plenty of people out there like myself who have difficulty sleeping at night. While I don’t take any medication for it, many people do. Legal sedative-hypnotic sleep aids include Ambien, Halcion, Sonata, Rozerem, and Lunesta.
California Vehicle Code section 23152(e) makes it a violation of California’s DUI law to drive while “under the influence” of a drug. This includes sleep aids. Being “under the influence” means that a person cannot drive as a reasonable sober person would under similar circumstances.
If a person takes sleep aids and then voluntarily gets behind the wheel, there’s a good chance that they will not be able to drive as a reasonable and sober person would under similar circumstances. In fact, that person runs the risk of falling asleep behind the wheels. If this is the case, a person can be arrested and convicted of a California DUI.
However, sleep aids have been known to cause people to sleepwalk and eventually drive after having fallen asleep.
According to the FDA, sleep driving occurs when someone “[drives] while not fully away after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.” In 2007, the FDA recognized sleep-driving as an “involuntary” act. This was significant because unconsciousness is a complete defense to a criminal charge where the defendant’s actions are the involuntary and the product of the unconsciousness.
The California Appellate Court addressed this specific issue in the case of People v. Mathson.
Mathson had taken more than the prescribed dose of Ambien and was subsequently arrested for DUI after he was found sleep-driving. After being convicted at trial, the appellate court upheld Mathson’s DUI conviction because it held that, after taking Ambien for seven or eight years, he should have had reason to know of the drug’s intoxicating effect. The court concluded that Mathson didn’t need to specifically know that he sleep-drive.
Unfortunately, the court veered from the longstanding and common sense view that a person must voluntarily and consciously commit a crime. If you take sleep aids and know the intoxicating effects of them, you can be convicted of a DUI if you involuntarily and unconsciously sleep-drive.
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