Many people assume that they will not be charged with a DUI as long as they avoid substances before getting behind the wheel. However, modern laws may consider you “under the influence” even when you are totally sober. These cases can be difficult to fight because there is no way to prove you were capable of driving at that moment in time. If you have been charged with a crime because of sleep-deprived driving, it’s important to find the right lawyer to represent your defense.
Is Drowsy Driving a DUI?
Many people work at jobs that require long hours. They might be a nurse who is on the wards overnight or a long haul trucker taking needed goods to their destination. Driving home safely can be a challenge after a long shift, but most people in these professions make it work. Few would consider such a surgeon driving home after an emergency operation to be impaired, but the law might disagree. As of 2003, however, many states consider drowsy driving to be a form of DUI.
In 2003, Maggie’s Law was passed in New Jersey. This law makes it illegal to drive while too exhausted to function well. Many states followed suit and have passed similar laws against driving while sleep deprived. While this law began with good intentions, many innocent people are facing charges as a result of it. These laws do not just apply to people who are falling asleep while driving, but to anyone who appears impaired as a result of being tired. This is a very subjective judgment call. Even if you are not “sleep driving,” you still may face charges and need a lawyer to help defend your rights.
What Is a Drowsy Driver?
You may think that you were capable of driving before you stepped behind the wheel. However, the law may not necessarily agree. If you are pulled over or in an accident, even through no fault of your own, you may find yourself charged with a DUI based on the idea that you were intoxicated from a lack of sleep.
For some people, they may have been without sleep due to long working hours. Long haul truckers, doctors, nurses, and many other professions are required to work long hours. The prosecution may argue that these long hours left you unable to make good decisions while driving. They may even argue that you were actually asleep when the incident occurred, even if there is no evidence for this. Ironically, doctors are allowed to practice medicine or perform surgery after 24 hours without sleep, yet many prosecutors will argue that they are not fit to drive.
Other people are charged with being drowsy drivers because of medical conditions. Some people take medications that, while not intoxicating, can make them sleepier. Others have medical conditions that have the same effect. If you are on a medication or have a condition that makes you more tired than other people, the prosecution may argue that this is an impairment. It is up to you and your lawyer to prove that even with these medical conditions, you were still awake and capable of making good decisions.
What Laws Affect Drowsy Driving?
You may think you are capable of driving home after a long shift, but the law could disagree. People such as health care workers who are awake for more than 24 hours may be charged with sleep driving. People who have conditions such as sleep apnea that make it difficult for them to stay awake also can be charged. While it is possible to avoid drunk driving, it is almost impossible to avoid a long shift or a medical condition. The rate of people who are charged with DUI because of lack of sleep is rising.
Drivers often have no idea that they were considered legally impaired before they are charged with this crime. Many people work long shifts on a regular basis and do not realize that merely driving home is a crime. It is important to find a lawyer who is experienced in fighting these charges when you are faced with this kind of accusation.
The Consequences of Sleep Deprived Driving
New laws place drowsy drivers under the same umbrella as drunk drivers. This, the consequences of sleep deprived driving are identical to those of a DUI. People may have to complete classes, pay fines, or even serve jail time. You may lose your license and be unable to get to work. Because this is a felony charge, many people may lose their ability to work in certain fields. Getting a commercial driver’s license will be especially difficult, or even impossible. In addition, people convicted of impaired driving may be sued in civil court for damages even if the accident or incident was not completely their fault. A DUI conviction is devastating regardless of why the driver was considered impaired.
The problem with these charges is that they assume all people are impaired when sleep deprived. Every person has different sleep needs. Some people may function well when sleep deprived and be perfectly capable of driving home. Many people are legally considered capable of practicing medicine at the same time that this law considers them incapable of driving home from their shift on the wards. It is possible to fight these charges and avoid their devastating effect on your life if you have the right lawyer. The onus is on you and your legal team to prove you were completely capable of driving when you were behind the wheel.
Who Decides If I Was Too Drowsy?
In most states, the outcome of these cases is decided by a jury. People who have no experience in medicine or psychology will be the ones to determine if you were indeed tired enough to be impaired. This is a case where a jury of your peers can be a hindrance. It is easy for many prosecutors to convince a group of people that an accident or other incident was due to the defendant falling asleep, even with little evidence. A good DUI lawyer knows how to make your case to both judges and the everyday people who comprise juries. It is important to be heard when you are charged with a serious and life-altering crime.
How Can a DUI Lawyer Help Me?
Because drowsy drivers are considered impaired drivers, they are often best served by lawyers who specialize in DUI. A conviction can lead to similar consequences to that of a DUI, including losing driving rights, fines and jail time, having to attend classes, and a lifelong criminal record. The consequences can last a lifetime. The prosecution will have lawyers and thus it is essential that defendants have them too.
A DUI lawyer who is trained in defending this type of case will be able to carefully examine the evidence against you for loopholes. While it is easy to prove that a person is drunk, it is more tricky to determine whether they were too impaired to drive. It is also difficult to prove that they were, in fact, perfectly capable of driving. You deserve to have a person who is experienced in ‘driving with sleepy’ charges to defend your rights and ensure that your best interests are served at every step of the process.
No one intends to be charged with a DUI. This is especially true of people who were not legally intoxicated with a substance when they were arrested. You should not be punished for working long hours to support your family. Get a DUI lawyer experienced in sleepy driving now to ensure that your constitutional rights are served throughout this ordeal. Fighting criminal charges is scary. Having an experienced advocate can make all the difference in whether you move on from this ordeal.