The Ambien defense—or, as medical doctors call it, the zolpidem defense—is a claim that you were not conscious and therefore not aware of what you were doing when you committed a criminal act.
Voluntary vs. Involuntary Acts
In Indiana, the law says we only want to punish voluntary acts. If a person has a seizure and they end up hitting someone who’s trying to help, the person with epilepsy won’t be subject to a battery charge. The same goes for folks who get into trouble while sleepwalking or who are coerced into criminal activity with threats. These people are not criminally liable for involuntary acts.
That said, intoxication is usually not available as a defense. You can’t get blackout drunk, cause a bunch of havoc, and then claim it wasn’t your fault. If you voluntarily ingest an intoxicant, you’re responsible for the behavior that follows.
The exception to this general rule involves involuntary intoxication:
(1) where someone puts a substance in your food or drink without your consent and intoxication ensues; or
(2) where you didn’t know the substance might have intoxicating effects.
Ambien and Its Potential Effects
Ambien is a popular sleep aid with some high profile side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that a certain number of people using Ambien will experience abnormal thinking and/or behavioral changes. This can include anything from mild hallucinations to sleep-driving.
So does this create a loophole for people to consume Ambien and behave recklessly? Not so fast. This strategy can only work once, at best. Once you’ve learned that you’re one of the lucky few at risk for sleep-driving, you’re not allowed to keep claiming ignorance.
Almost half of all adults in America take prescription medications, and side effects are a very real part of our lives. Unanticipated behavior resulting from medication side effects is not something we want to punish people for.
An intoxicating side effect, however, can only be a surprise the first time it occurs. Once you know that intoxication is a side effect, your intoxication becomes voluntary every time you choose to ingest the substance. In this sense, the Ambien defense is really just the involuntary intoxication defense.
Make the Right Call
This is a complicated issue. On the one hand, we don’t want people carelessly driving around on a head full of medication. On the other hand, we don’t want to treat someone like a criminal just because they had an odd reaction to their new pill.
If you or someone you love has questions about the Ambien defense or any other kind of involuntary intoxication, give us a call at 317-632-3642 and remember—always plead the 5th!