What is the Ambien Defense in Florida?

July 1, 2021 Criminal Defense, Drug Charges

Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic sleep medicine used by adults to treat insomnia. The Ambien defense is also known as the “sleep driving” defense. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines sleep driving as “driving while not fully awake after ingestion of a sedative-hypnotic product, with no memory of the event.”[1] Zolpidem (sold under the brand names Ambien, Ambien CR, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist), along with other popular sleep medications such as eszopiclone (sold under the brand name Lunesta), and zaleplon (sold under the brand name Sonata), are all considered sedative-hypnotic drugs that pose the risk of complex sleep related behaviors including sleepwalking, sleep driving, and engaging in other activities while not fully awake.[2] As a result, patients have taken these medications, gone to sleep, and woken up in jail with a DUI charge. Although this defense is prominently used against DUI offenses, it has also been used as a defense for violent crimes such as murder.

Statutory Analysis

Under Florida Statute 316.193, a person is guilty of a DUI if they are driving or in actual physical control of a vehicle within the state and are under the influence of alcoholic beverages, a chemical substance, or a controlled substance that causes their normal faculties to be impaired. As of 2018, Florida Statute 893.03 includes Zolpidem, the main ingredient of Ambien, as a controlled substance. Therefore, a DUI arrest involving Ambien can result in a criminal conviction.

The Voluntary Factor

The FDA recognized the potential dangers associated with sleep medications and issued a boxed warning to be added to the prescribing information and the patient medication guides for zolpidem, eszopiclone and zaleplon.[3] In addition, the FDA required a Contraindication, their strongest warning, to avoid use in patients who had previously experienced an episode of complex sleep behavior while taking any of the sleep aids.[4] These measures taken by the FDA are important, as they signify that sleep related behaviors such as sleep driving are involuntary. Florida Statute 316.193 criminalizes individuals that are voluntarily driving under the influence, therefore, if it is determined that the defendant was acting involuntarily, they are not criminally culpable. This is called the involuntary intoxication defense and can be used when someone commits a crime after having an unpredictable reaction to a drug or after being drugged without their knowledge. However, the involuntary intoxication defense doesn’t fully apply to Ambien, as the label specifically warns that it can cause you to engage in sleep related activities without any memory of them. For this reason, crafting an Ambien defense can be difficult, and all facts leading up to the crime, including whether the sleep medicine was mistakenly taken, or whether any other drugs or alcohol had been consumed before the crime was committed hold great weight in whether or not the defense will be successful.

Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

As a result of the Florida Legislature recently classifying Ambien’s main ingredient as a controlled substance, sleep driving after taking the medication can lead to perilous legal repercussions. However, an experienced attorney may be able to use the overlooked details of your case or the case of a loved one to form an Ambien defense that reduces or completely eliminates the penalties associated with your conviction. Contact a Tallahassee criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to explore your options and ensure you are provided a strong defense strategy that protects your legal rights. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have years of experience defending clients facing DUI charges and will be adamant in pursuing justice on your behalf. Call a defense attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your options during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our legal team.

This article was written by Sarah Kamide

Sarah Pumphrey Law Firm







[1] Peggy Peck, FDA Warns of Sedative-Aided Sleep Driving and Anaphylaxis, Patient Care Online, https://www.patientcareonline.com/view/fda-warns-sedative-aided-sleep-driving-and-anaphylaxis (Mar. 14, 2107).

[2] FDA Drug Safety Communication, FDA adds Boxed Warning for Risk of Serious Injuries Caused by Sleepwalking with Certain Prescription Insomnia Medicines; FDA.gov, https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-adds-boxed-warning-risk-serious-injuries-caused-sleepwalking-certain-prescription-insomnia (May 14, 2019).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

Back to Top