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People v. Merlen, CA 3rd district, Case No. C051678, unpublished opinion has very good material regarding expert testimony re use of ambient and DUI.

Facts:

The defendant was involved in a traffic collision and was injured in the collision. The other party involved in the collision was killed and defendant was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and convicted at trial. He appealed the conviction on the grounds that the police officer that testified at trial was not qualified to rely on the toxicology report in rendering his opinion that he was under the influence of drugs while operating a motor vehicle and there was insufficient evidence that he was under the influence of a drug for purposes of gross vehicular manslaughter.

Officers interviewed the defendant at the hospital and he could not explain how the accident occurred, stating “I was driving down the road one minute. . . and the next minute I was in an accident. Def admitted to taking ambient at 9:00 a.m. and the accident occurred at 9:20 a.m.. A forensic toxicologist testified that Ambien is a “very strong depressant” that is rapidly eliminated from the body and does not build up over time. According to the manufacturer of Ambien, it remains in the system for eight hours. The window of detection of Ambien is “very limited” and the “effects of the drug are very strong through that whole window.” The observable effects of Ambien include drowsiness, poor coordination, poor judgment, and slurred speech.

The toxicologist further testified that the amount of Ambien in the defendant’s system was not quantified because the quality controls necessary to quantify results are not commercially available for the drug. He further testified that the presence of Ambien in the defendant’s blood reflected recent usage, and the fact the accident occurred an appreciable period of time before the defendant’s blood was drawn rendered it more likely that defendant was feeling the effects of the drug when the accident occurred. Based on the fact the defendant drove his vehicle into oncoming traffic, it was pretty clear the defendant was feeling the effects of the drug, according to the expert.

The trial court allowed the police officer to give his expert opinion that the defendant was under the influence of a drug based on his observations and the toxicology report. CONVICTION UPHELD.

The use of Ambien and other sleep aid drugs is becoming very prevalent today and we are seeing more and more DUI arrests for persons under the influence of Ambien or other sleep aid drugs. Persons should not drive after taking these medications and if they do and are arrested they should not admit to use of these drugs to the police. The basic toxicology screen may not pick up the Ambien but if the officer is aware that drug was taken by the driver, then he will request the police crime lab to specifically screen for that drug.

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