Defending a Sleep Driving DUI

It sounds like a nightmare. You go to bed, and the next thing you know you are in the back of a police car after being arrested for DUI. You’re still in your pajamas, and have no memory of what happened.

Although this type of thing sounds far-fetched to a lot of people, the evidence is overwhelming that prescription drug induced sleep-driving is a very real thing. Our office has seen numerous DUI cases where our clients are charged with DUI based on this very circumstance.

Even though your sleep-driving DUI case isn’t the first, it is still definitely not a run-of-the-mill DUI. There are specific steps that need to be taken to ensure that your rights against an unfair chare are fully protected.

South Carolina’s DUI law allows for cases to be made based on prescription medication. So the fact that a doctor prescribed a sleeping pill, such as Ambien, doesn’t automatically mean a case is going to be dismissed.

Just like any other DUI case the first step is going to be notifying the court that the charge is fully contested. This will make sure that there is enough time to get the evidence needed to challenge the case. Unlike other DUI’s there can be a lot more to consider, especially when you don’t remember exactly what happened.

In many sleep-driving instances people are able to drive, just not very well. It’s like only part of the brain is working while the other part remains asleep. For this reason it is important to try to re-create the path taken by the vehicle. If a cell-phone was in the car then the GPS data might be able to help track the path. Then it is important to photograph any damage done, such as to a mailbox or garage door.

If there are witnesses to either the driving or what happened to the arrest they need to be interviews and have statements taken. There observations and impression can be important in trying to determine exactly what happened. Here are some examples of driving behaviors typical with sleep-driving:

• Very slow driving (under 20 M.P.H.)

• Damage from striking objects or curbs

• No one else in vehicle

• Inability to perform field sobriety tests

• Delayed response to the officer’s blue lights

• Complete disorientation as to what is occurring

It can be a very good idea to use an investigator to help with the photography and witness interviews. We have an investigators on-call who can promptly respond to help gather and preserve this type of evidence.

Another critical step is obtaining medical and prescription records to establish medication history. Although a DUI case can be based on properly prescribed prescription drugs just like for drugs not prescribed (for example pills bought off the street or obtained from a friend), the court can be more inclined to go-along with a defendant who can establish that any pills were properly obtained.

In addition to an investigator, a sleep-driving case also can benefit from an expert witness. This should be an M.D. (typically psychiatry), sleep-disorder expert, or forensic toxicologist. We also have contacts with these types of professionals and can help locate a suitable expert for our client’s case.

The goal for a sleep-driving case is to obtain a complete dismissal, or otherwise have the charges reduced to a situation our client believes is in their best interest to accept. This may be to a reduced ticket, where if accepted removes the DUI arrest from our client’s record. When we accept a sleep-driving DUI case it is presumed that unless the case is dismissed or favorably reduced that it will be fully challenged in trial.

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