Driving under the influence pursuant to California Penal Code 23152(a) prohibits driving under the influence of, not only alcohol and illegal drugs, but prescription and over- the-counter drugs as well. Legal sedative-hypnotic sleep aids like Ambien, Halcion, Sonata, Rozerem and Lunestra are, in particular, more likely to cause someone to drive under the influence.
These medications, and others like them, have been known to cause what is called “sleep driving.” According to the FDA, sleep driving occurs when someone “[drives] while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.” In other words, sleep driving occurs when a person’s sleep walking takes them into their vehicle and onto the open road. In 2007, the FDA recognized sleep driving as an “involuntary” act. This is significant because California law prohibits the voluntary act of driving when coupled with the voluntary act of ingesting drugs or alcohol.
While sleep driving cases have, in fact, been successfully prosecuted in California, the unconsciousness of the sleep driving individual can serve as a legitimate defense to a charge of 23152(a) as the act would not be considered voluntary.
Suffice it to say that the defense is substantiated if, when law enforcement pulls the suspect over, they’re in pajamas and a nightcap.