By: David Katz, Esquire & Andrew Nickolaou, J.D.
Even non-drinkers could be in danger of being charged with DUI in Florida. If you are like the thousands of others who take prescription sleep medication like Ambien every year, you run the risk of a growing phenomenon of “sleep-driving” which could instantly land you in jail charged with drug related DUI and having no recollection of how you got there.
DUI Ambien and “Sleep Driving”
“Sleep driving” is defined by the FDA as “driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.” Ambien and other popular sleeping medications are sedative-hypnotic products that can cause this condition. Sleep driving while under the influence of Ambien occurs after you take the medication, go to sleep, unknowingly wake up (and start sleep-walking) and then drive a car. It is a growing danger, as many people continue to suffer Florida DUI Ambien arrests.
Even though sleep driving has become a recognized phenomenon, it nevertheless may result in serious ramifications for you or your loved ones. If you use Ambien or any other “sedative-hypnotic” medication and then drive, you may face a Florida DUI charge.
DUI Ambien….for real?
In Florida, it is quite tricky to determine whether a charge of DUI can be upheld on the fact that you took prescribed sleep medication in a lawful manner, and then due to a side effect, involuntarily drove your vehicle. To be charged with DUI under Florida Statute § 316.193, the State must prove that while driving or in the actual physical control of the vehicle, you were under the influence of alcoholic beverages, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance to the extent that your normal faculties were impaired.
Interestingly enough, under Florida Statute § 893.03, neither Ambien nor its main ingredient Zolpidem are listed as a controlled substance. Thus, in theory, this element of the DUI charge cannot be proven. Mixing sleeping pills with alcohol is dangerous to begin with, but combining the two and then driving could have catastrophic consequences. If the State can prove, that you drove after taking Ambien and consuming any alcohol then the DUI charge could possibly be proven.
FDA Recognizes DUI Ambien may be an “Involuntary” Act
In 2007, the FDA ordered drug companies that manufacture these types of drugs to warn users of the “sleep driving” side effect. This warning comes in two forms: (1) on a clear label on the bottle, and (2) in a product medication guide that accompanies the prescription.
The fact that the FDA took that action is significant. It demonstrates that this condition is involuntary which could arguably act as a defense to a Florida DUI charge. A Florida DUI criminalizes the voluntary act of driving while under the influence. It follows that if there is no voluntary act, then there is no criminal culpability.
The fact that sleep driving is involuntary is further corroborated by the evidence that surrounds a typical DUI Ambien arrest…those stopped are often only semi-clothed in sleeping attire, disoriented, and/or oblivious to the DUI investigation. But…
Certain Voluntary Acts Negate this Defense to a DUI Ambien Charge
Ignoring warnings or otherwise improperly using Ambien or other sedative-hypnotic products will invalidate this defense. Most of the cases that have been successfully prosecuted involve cases where the defendant:
- Combined Ambien with other drugs and/or alcohol (despite the fact that a “label warning” advised against doing so), and/or
- Exceeded the recommended dosage.
Similarly, many of those who have been arrested for Florida DUI Ambien include those who:
- Suffer from the “next day” effect — a continued drowsiness after waking up from the drug-induced sleep, or
- Took the drug before they got home, hoping it would “kick in” before bedtime.
The bottom line is this — be very careful when using these extremely potent sleep aids. If you are taking Ambien or another prescription or over-the-counter sleep medication, always ensure that you are completely alert before driving. It is also a good idea to hide your keys before going to bed.
To learn more information about DUI Ambien, we invite you to contact us. We offer free initial consultations and handle DUI’s in Orange, Osceola, Lake, Seminole, Volusia, Alachua, Baker, Gilchrist, Marion, Levy, Putnam, Clay and Flagler counties to conveniently serve you.