Interviewer: What kind of defense would you give someone or what kind of game plan would you have for someone that had a DUI with Ambien?
The Properties of Ambien Make It Difficult to Prove Intent to Drive While Impaired
Brian: Actually, there is a case that came out from the Arizona court of appeal on an Ambien situation. Ambien is known for contributing to sleep driving so that can be an issue. A person doesn’t necessarily have to intentionally drive or be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but a person needs to be aware of what they are doing. The law is to punish someone who has control over their own body, who knows what’s going on and that’s where Ambien comes into play because basically the person meant to go to sleep.
They took the Ambien because they meant to go to sleep. The next thing they realize is that an officer has pulled them over and they have been driving. People have been found wearing their slippers and in their nightgowns on Ambien and having no clue how they were out there driving, where they were going, what they were doing. Their intention was to sleep. That’s usually the first concern with an Ambien type of case.
Other issues can concern taking medication as prescribed. It truly did not impair someone. This is someone who’s been on the medication for years. People know how they react to the Ambien. Sometimes people, they take their Ambien. They know that it takes about a half an hour to kick in so they’ll go and get a burger.
They know that it’s going to take five minutes to go get a burger and ten minutes to get back after they’ve ordered. But unfortunately they get pulled over in the meantime and all of the sudden, the Ambien’s kicking in. The symptoms of impairment start to show themselves while they’re with the officer.
Sometimes explaining that sort of thing to the prosecutor, explaining that sort of thing to the jury, looking into how they went about testing it, there can be some issues with doing blood tests on Ambien. There can be some issues with doing urine tests on Ambien. It is really a case by case specific.
If Drug Use Is Attributed to a Fatal Accident, Will a Felony Charge Be Leveled against the Driver?
Interviewer: Let’s talk about a worst case scenario. Let’s say there’s a fatal accident and it shows that there is medicine in someone’s blood. Will that be automatically a felony?
Brian: In Maricopa County, most probably. Anyone who is alleged to be under the influence of any sort of drugs or alcohol or vapor-releasing substances or medications where someone has been injured is likely to find themselves charged with aggravated assault, possibly endangerment and possibly looking at five to fifteen years in prison.
Before 2013, a Driver’s License Would Not Be Suspended through the Arizona DMV if the Driver Had a Valid Prescription for Medication and was Charged with a DUI
Interviewer: As far as the medical DUI that we’ve talked about, how are drug use allegations differ from alcohol use in a DMV hearing?
Brian: It used to be handled quite a bit differently. The Motor Vehicles Division will suspend your license for being suspected of DUI. They will suspend it for 90 days simply for being suspected, regardless of whether it is drugs, medications or alcohol. It used to be that if you had a prescription for your medications, you could not have your license suspended for the 90 days for being suspected of DUI.
In 2013 that law changed to stipulate that if the person was impaired by their prescription medications, they could still have their license suspended for 90 days for being suspected of DUI.
A Conviction for a Drug-Related DUI Now Entails a One Year License Suspension
If someone were to be convicted of alcohol DUI as a first time misdemeanor DUI offense, they are going to lose their license for 90 days. That will be the same 90 days that they may have already done for being suspected of DUI. If they are convicted of any sort of drug or medication DUI, however, they are going to their license for one year simply because it was drugs or medications as opposed to alcohol.