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Does Driving Under Influence of Ambien in Michigan Require Specific Intent?

Sep 2nd, 2016 DUI Drug Charges DUI Defense

Sleep driving is a well-known side effect of Ambien.  Sleep driving is even listed as a side effect of this drug in the product literature. It is nevertheless illegal to be driving under the influence of Ambien. If you are stopped and the police believe that you are under the influence of Ambien in Michigan, then you will be arrested for DUI; just the same as if you were under the influence of alcohol.  This might be true even if you never intended to commit this crime.

In Michigan driving under the influence of Ambien is considered to be a general intent crime.  This means you do not have the specific intent to commit a DUI to be convicted of it in Michigan.  One reason for this is because intoxication is a defense to specific intent crimes.  If intoxication was a defense to DUI all persons arrested for it could raise intoxication as their defense.

However, an arrest is not a conviction.  Depending on the facts of your case, it may still be possible to raise a defense to the driving element, because even in Michigan a DUI requires the specific intent to drive.  This defense has been successful in many prior Ambien cases in Michigan. In other words, even if the totality of the crime is general intent, the driving element is specific intent.

A similar defense was recently raised in a case in Arkansas. The name of the case is Leek v. Arkansas.[i]In this case the police responded to a call for a possibly intoxicated person.   The police observed defendant driving recklessly, swerving, and running a red light. Upon approaching vehicle, the police further observed that the driver looked extremely confused and very lethargic.  The defendant admitted only to taking an allergy medication and a prescription pain medication. Then, while attempting to exit the vehicle, the defendant lost his balance and fell against the car. The defendant’s breath test was 0.00 alcohol level, while the toxicology report showed only the presence of Ambien.

At the trial the parties agreed to admit a medical-opinion letter indicated “experienced a complex sleep behavior … namely sleep-driving, which is a known adverse reaction to Ambien.”  The prosecutor claimed DWI was a strict liability crime, and the court agreed, finding that no culpable mental state was required for the DWI offense and ruled that the stipulated facts provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that defendant had violated the DWI act.

On appeal, the court reversed, indicating that a because the statute defining the offense of DWI did not prescribe a mental state, one may not be imputed.  Thus, the State was required to prove that defendant acted purposely, knowingly, or recklessly in order to convict him of DWI.

There are no published cases in Michigan addressing this issue with Ambien and driving under the influence.  However, if you are charged with driving under the influence of Ambien in Michigan, the attorneys at the Barone Defense Firm can help you raise this defense at trial.