For release on October 30, 2013
Deputy District Attorney
Central Misdemeanor Team
Rejecting an increasingly popular “sleep driving” defense, a jury this week convicted a Santa Clara man of a misdemeanor charge of driving while under the influence of a sleep drug.
Steven Fernandez, 42, was pulled over while driving dangerously soon after taking the prescription sleep-aid drug Ambien. Unlike an alcohol-based DUI, there is no numerical measure of how much of a drug a person can have in their system to be considered “legally impaired.” The law prohibits driving while impaired on alcohol and/or drugs.
Fernandez was also convicted Tuesday of two misdemeanor counts of driving with a suspended license for a 2010 DUI in which he had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced by the Hon. Sunil Kulkarni on Nov. 25. He faces a sentence of at least 120 days and up to a year in jail.
“Just because someone is on a prescription medication does not absolve them of their responsibility to stay off the road if they are too impaired to drive,” prosecutor Jing-Lan Lee said. “They are a safety hazard.”
On March 5, 2012, around 1:40 a.m., CHP officers saw Fernandez driving his BMW northbound on Highway 101, near Bailey Avenue, swerving across three lanes of traffic.
After he was pulled over, a preliminary screening showed that Fernandez had no alcohol in his blood. However, he performed poorly on a field sobriety test, and was arrested. Later, a blood test showed Ambien in his system.
During his trial, the defendant testified that he had taken the drug and gone to sleep. He claimed that the next thing he remembered was being evaluated at a hospital. Sleep driving, getting up and going for a drive with no memory of doing so, is an extremely rare, but officially-listed side effect of Ambien. However, evidence showed several behaviors by the defendant that experts agreed were inconsistent with sleep-driving. In particular, Fernandez had a rational destination (a local hospital) and he was able to engage in multi-level decision-making. After being arrested, Fernandez argued with the officers about whether Ambien could result in a DUI.###