Ambien Intoxication Can Lead To DWI Charges

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When Ambien first hit the market in 1992, it didn’t take long for users to post warnings about the strange somnambulistic behavior they’d noticed after extended use of this sleep aid. From raiding the refrigerator to booking a tropical vacation (and having no memory of either activity in the morning), Ambien users could find themselves playing the “what did I do last night?” game.

Ambien Leads to DWI Conviction

In May 2019, a Lake Worth man was sentenced to two years of probation after he was found guilty of driving while intoxicated (DWI) due to his Ambien use. While under the influence of Ambien in 2017, this driver hopped a median and crashed into eight different vehicles before speeding away, a dangerous journey that was caught on videotape. At the sentencing hearing, despite handing down a sentence that included no jail time, the judge sternly lectured the driver about the fact that prescription medications do not provide their users with a “free pass” to drive while intoxicated.

One factor that may have weighed on the jury’s decision to issue a sentence of probation instead of jail time involved the driver’s successful stint in drug rehabilitation. Because this driver had kicked his chemical dependency since 2017 and was less likely to pose a danger in the future, the jury may have felt as though jail time was unwarranted. However, under different circumstances, a driver convicted of DWI in Texas could spend up to six months behind bars, even without a prior conviction.

What Constitutes Ambien Intoxication Under Texas Law?

Unlike driving under the influence of alcohol, with its specific blood alcohol concentration (BAC) threshold, and illicit drugs, which are illegal under any circumstances, a criminal charge of driving under the influence of prescription drugs can be a tricky issue to prosecute. Without a black-and-white standard by which to measure intoxication, many of these charges depend largely on the arresting officer’s impression of the driver’s inebriation; and unless an Ambien-fueled driver is involved in an accident or damages property, the likelihood that they’ll be pulled over or asked to take a field sobriety test may be minimal.

For drivers charged with driving under the influence of Ambien or another prescription drug, this “gray area” can significantly expand the number and types of defense arguments available. For example, you may be able to challenge the arresting officer’s level of experience in dealing with individuals who are under the influence of a particular drug, showing that they’re not necessarily well-equipped to judge intoxication.

If the medication you took before driving is of the controlled-release variety, you could also argue that the blood tests taken at the hospital did not accurately reflect the concentration of the medication in your bloodstream when you were behind the wheel. Absent a “mobile DUI” unit that can take a driver’s blood sample right at the scene, hospital-based blood testing can often take place hours after the initial detention, skewing the accuracy of the results and potentially leading to an acquittal if there isn’t independent evidence of intoxication.