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‘Ambien zombies’ pose road hazard and legal challenge

Courts are beginning to address questions from arising from crimes or traffic wrecks where the accused raises a defense of involuntary intoxication from sleep aid medication.

Some Texas pranksters got big laughs a while back by hacking a roadside warning sign to read “CAUTION – ZOMBIES AHEAD.” As Alexandria lawyer Chris Leibig points out, however, one kind of zombie really does pose a road hazard – people driving under the influence of Ambien or other sleep aids.

Courts struggle with whether voluntary consumption of medication that makes you act “involuntarily” can be a defense to a criminal or traffic charge, as Leibig discusses in a recent Washington Examiner article.

One guy named Dean Bradley could be the poster child for the Ambien zombie defense. Based on this opinion and this one, both from the Virginia Court of Appeals, Bradley was involved in two separate accidents a month apart in 2007, with Ambien blamed for his actions in each case. An “unconsciousness” defense was unavailing in the first case. A conviction was affirmed in the second case, as well, with exclusion of his expert on the effects of Ambien.

The Supreme Court of Virginia also turned thumbs down on an “unconsciousness defense” based on Ambien use in this case.

As Leibig concludes, the medication sleep-walking defense works best if the accused has followed prescription instructions and avoided alcohol or other unprescribed drugs.

By Peter Vieth

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