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Understanding the “Ambien Defense”

Guilfoil Law Group April 27, 2023

You may have heard the term “Ambien defense” on TV, or read about it on the news. This term is a reference to the drug causing a person to act in a way they otherwise wouldn’t. Although this isn’t a legal term, it’s often used when talking about possible criminal DUI and DWI defenses.  

But is this really an option? And will a judge consider it if it’s presented to them in court? The answer isn’t totally clear which is why it’s always a good idea to consult with a DUI defense attorney. If you’re in the Kansas City, Missouri area including Clay County, Platte County, Jackson County, or anywhere in Missouri call me at the Guilfoil Law Group to learn more. 

What Is the “Ambien Defense?”   

The “Ambien defense” is a legal strategy that defendants may try to employ to argue against criminal charges such as driving under the influence.  

And despite what the name may imply, this defense can be used in regards to other drugs than Ambien like Lunesta, Prosom, Rozerem, or Carbrital. These prescription drugs all include side effects that can cause excessive drowsiness, sleepwalking, and “sleep driving.” It’s important to note that these drugs all come with FDA-required warnings on them alerting users of these possibilities including how dangerous driving under Ambien can be. In fact, the Ambien defense can be ineffective specifically because of these present warnings.  

Another potential concern with using the Ambien defense revolves around the legal concept of voluntary vs. involuntary intoxication. Presumably, you have voluntarily consumed Ambien and therefore have accepted and are aware of the side effects. 

Possible Penalties   

The penalties for a prescription drug DUI or a sleeping medication DUI are the same as they would be for an alcohol-related arrest since they’re all considered “impaired” driving. The penalties increase in severity the more previous DUI convictions you have (note that in Missouri these are referred to as driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws).  

For example, most first-time offenders will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor which can result in a license suspension of at least 30 days, a fine of up to $1,000, and the potential of six months in jail. A second offense will typically be a Class A misdemeanor and the penalties can increase to a one-year license revocation, up to $2,000 in fines, and up to one year in jail.  

Possible Defenses   

If you believe you have a legitimate Ambien defense, it’s essential that you reach out to a lawyer who can help you with your case. This is a very difficult defense to mount and must be done by a professional to have a chance at success.  

One option you have is to argue that you were never warned about the possible side effects of the drug from your prescribing doctor or pharmacist. In other cases, you may be able to show that you involuntarily ingested the drug. Lastly, many people try to use the Ambien defense for crimes by claiming they were sleepwalking while the crime was committed and therefore had no awareness of what they were doing and were essentially unconscious at this time.  

All of these potential defenses can be problematic though, because these drugs are controlled and contain so many warnings about the side effects that most judges won’t accept them.    

How a Strong & Reliable Attorney Can Help   

If you’re in the Kansas City, Missouri area and have recently been arrested on a DWI charge due to prescription drugs, there are defense options available, but you need an experienced attorney working on your side. At the Guilfoil Law Group, you’ll be working with a seasoned and professional lawyer who’s committed to protecting your rights and fighting tirelessly to defend your interests. Call me today to learn about your options.