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Are There Any Defenses to Drugged Driving?

A drugged driving charge can result in harsh penalties. Luckily, if you're hit with DUI charges for drugged driving, there are defenses you can raise.

For example, Kerry Kennedy (daughter of Sen. Robert Kennedy), was once arrested for drugged driving in suburban New York after careening her Lexus into a tractor-trailer. As part of her defense strategy, she claimed she accidentally took a sleeping pill. Is that a valid defense? 

Defenses That Don't Work

  • Over-the-counter and prescription medication. A doctor's prescription is not a defense to drugged driving charges. Driving under the influence of legally prescribed or over-the-counter medications -- such as sleeping pills, antihistamines, antidepressants, and more -- can still result in a drugged driving charge.
  • Sleep driving. One of the common side effects of sleeping pills is sleep-walking and performing other actions while unconscious. Unfortunately for Kennedy and the other 60 million Americans who take prescription sleep aids, "sleep driving" isn't a defense to driving under the influence when a defendant voluntarily takes a sleeping pill.
  • Small amount. Many states have zero-tolerance policies for driving under the influence of substances other than alcohol -- even prescription medications if they impair your ability to drive. Even in states without zero-tolerance, including New York, drugged-driving laws may still subject you to a field sobriety test via implied consent.

Defenses That May Work

While there are few defenses that will work, courts can potentially consider mitigating circumstances that could reduce your charge or lessen your sentence. If you woke up to a DUI nightmare after a night with a sleeping pill or other drug, contact a DUI lawyer.

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