Las Vegas DUI laws do not just pertain to drinking alcohol and driving, or driving under the influence of illicit drugs. You can also be charged with DUI in Nevada for operating a vehicle after having taken legal sleep medication such as Ambien and Lunesta. You can even face charges if you have a lawful prescription for the substances.
The law is stated in Nevada Revised Statutes 484C.110:
Unlawful acts relating to operation of vehicle…
2. It is unlawful for any person who:
(a) Is under the influence of a controlled substance;
(b) Is under the combined influence of intoxicating liquor and a controlled substance; or
(c) Inhales, ingests, applies or otherwise uses any chemical, poison or organic solvent, or any compound or combination of any of these, to a degree which renders the person incapable of safely driving or exercising actual physical control of a vehicle,
to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle on a highway or on premises to which the public has access. The fact that any person charged with a violation of this subsection is or has been entitled to use that drug under the laws of this State is not a defense against any charge of violating this subsection.
- driving a motor vehicle after taking too many Ambien pills,
- sitting in a car with a running engine after too much sleep medication, and
- driving while almost unconscious due to Lunesta.
You have the right to challenge a DUI charge involving sleeping pills with a legal defense. A few common defenses include:
- raising the so-called “Ambien defense,”
- proving that you were not “under the influence” of sleep medication, and/or
- showing that a police officer arrested you without probable cause.
- fines of $400 to $1,000, and/or
- two days to six months in jail or 24 hours to 96 hours of community service.
- 1. What is DUI of sleep medication in Nevada?
- 2. Are there common defenses to DUI of sleeping pills?
- 3. What are the penalties?
- 4. Are there related offenses
1. What is DUI of sleep medication in Nevada?
Under NRS 484C.110, you can receive a DUI conviction if you drive under the influence of sleeping pills. This is true no matter if you were taking the pills recreationally or pursuant to a legal prescription.1
For purposes of this statute, “under the influence” means:
- you no longer have the normal use of your physical or mental faculties, and
- are not capable of acting in the manner of a reasonable and cautious person.2
Common sleep medication that can lead to a DUI arrest or DUI offense include:
- Butisol sodium,
- Carbrital, and
Note that DUI of sleeping pills is often due to “sleep-driving.” Sleep driving refers to the event where you drive while not fully awake or conscious because you took too many sleep pills.3
2. Are there common defenses to DUI of sleeping pills?
Las Vegas DUI attorneys often use certain defense strategies to contest charges of DUI of sleeping pills. Three common defenses include:
- the Ambien defense,
- showing that you were not “under the influence,” and
- showing that law enforcement stopped or arrested you without probable cause.
2.1. Ambien defense
The Ambien defense is sometimes used to challenge a sleep-driving charge. The defense basically asserts that you should not be guilty of DUI because you committed a DUI offense while sleeping or while committing an “unconscious” act. Unconsciousness often works as a complete defense to criminal charges.
A problem, though, is that the defense will often lack strength because people on sleep medications:
- voluntarily indue their unconsciousness, and/or
- take the medications after being warned of their side effects and that they can cause people to sleep drive.
2.2. Not under the influence
“Under the influence” has a precise legal definition. This means you can always contest a charge by showing that you were not under the influence or intoxicated when driving. For example, maybe you took sleeping pills but drove with all of your normal faculties.
2.3. No probable cause
Police usually cannot legally pull you over on suspicion of DUI unless:
- you commit some traffic violation, or
- they suspect you broke some other law.
So, if your defense lawyer can show that law enforcement did not have probable cause to stop you, a judge will likely dismiss your case in its entirety.
3. What are the penalties?
Prosecutors typically charge DUI of sleep medication as a misdemeanor. A first offense is often punishable by:
- fines of $400 to $1,000,
- 2 days to 6 months in jail or 24 hours to 96 hours of community service,
- successful completion of DUI School,
- attending a victim impact panel,
- completion of a drug abuse treatment program,
- a driver’s license suspension or revocation, and
- installation of an ignition interlock device.4
The above DUI penalties are generally the same for DUI of alcohol or illegal drugs. They will also grow more severe if you commit the crime more than once.
Note that you can usually try to seal a DUI after seven years from the date of your conviction. Sealing a DUI means that the offense will not show up on your criminal history.5
4. Are there related offenses
There are three criminal offenses related to DUI of sleeping pills. These include:
- DUI of prescription medication – NRS 484C.110,
- reckless driving – NRS 484B.653, and
- under the influence of a controlled substance – NRS 453.411.
4.1. DUI of prescription medication – NRS 484C.110
Under NRS 484C.110, you are guilty of drunk driving if you drive while under the influence of prescription drugs.
The penalties for the offense are generally the same if convicted of DUI while on sleeping pills.
4.2. Reckless driving – NRS 484B.653
Per NRS 484B.653, reckless driving is the crime where you operate a vehicle with willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.
Note that sometimes a prosecutor will agree to reduce a Nevada DUI with Ambien charge to a reckless driving charge.
4.3. Under the influence of a controlled substance – NRS 453.411
Under NRS 453.411, under the influence of a controlled substance is the offense where you take an illegal drug or are found under the influence of a controlled substance.
As with DUI of sleep medication, being under the influence is usually charged as a misdemeanor offense.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Las Vegas Defense Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
- NRS 484C.110(2).
- Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Intoxication.”
- Note that if you are not “sleep driving” prior to an arrest, police often determine that you are under the influence of sleep medication by taking a blood test or collecting a blood sample (as opposed to having you submit to a breath test or urine test).
- For general DUI penalties, see NRS 484C.400.
- See NRS 179.245.