DETROIT, MI – The Maze Legal Group obtained a great victory on behalf of one of our clients: Dismissal of a felony drunk driving, third offense, and possession of a controlled substance.
FACTS: Our client was stopped following a traffic accident. She was incoherent and confused. The police officer instructed her to remove her vehicle from the roadway, directing her to a nearby gas station parking lot. She seemed to understand but left the scene. The police officer followed her with his lights and siren. After a few minutes, she stopped, saying that she did not know that he was trying to stop her. She did not remember being in an accident.
She performed horribly on field sobriety tests and could not follow simple instructions. The officer was very thorough in his investigation but could not ascertain a reason for her incoherence. He explored drugs, alcohol, medical problems, and a laundry list of possible causes. Eventually, based upon the evidence, he arrested her for driving under the influence of drugs.
Because this was a third offense, the matter was charged as a felony drunk driving, OWI 3rd. During a vehicular search, prescription medications were discovered.
Blood tests later revealed that the prescription medications discovered in her car were not in her system. The blood test revealed high levels of another drug: Ambien also known as Zolpidem.
Ambien received widespread attention because it causes somnambulism in some cases. Somnambulism, more commonly known as “sleepwalking,” can manifest itself in many ways. Ambien patients have reported bouts of walking, conversations, and eating in the home while sleeping. Because driving is an over-learned task, some Ambien patients have woken up in jail cells with no memory of ever driving.
Ambien does not have a euphoric effect like alcohol, marijuana or vicodin. If you take Ambien, you get sleepy, so it is not exactly a party drug. But driving under the influence of Ambien is akin to driving while in an extremely sleep-deprived state. Both motor skills as well as mental abilities are seriously compromised by the drug.
Every crime, including drunk driving offenses, have an actus rea and a mens rea. These are fancy Latin terms taught to first year law students. They translate to the “criminal act” and “criminal mind.” A person driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs engages in a criminal act by virtue of driving while under the influence. The mens rea does not require that the driver drove with a specific intend of breaking the law but is satisfied by the fact that the person intended to drive. In other words, “I didn’t know I was over the legal limit” is not a defense.
In Ambien cases, however, there is no intent to drive. Reports of “sleep zombies” have appeared in the press describing Ambien drivers, and these folks truly are zombies. They are engaged in a mindless act, without thought. Scarier anecdotes include bizarre and inexplicable suicides by happy, well-adjusted people. The explanation? These folks are in a dream-state. If you’ve ever dreamed you could fly, imagine how fatally scary this drug can prove to be to the unsuspecting.
Because our client lacked any mental intent to drive, the prosecutor was willing to dismiss the case. In full disclosure, however, the client had another, unrelated charge that she accepted full responsibility on in exchange for the dismissal. Nonetheless, this is an impressive result with an interesting twist.