Last week, Oregon’s Supreme Court ruled in State v. Newman that “sleepdriving” is a legitimate defense for DUII. In Oregon, DUII is the acronym for Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants, which is comparable to PA’s DUI law. DUI is a strict liability crime, which means it does not require the offender to possess at the time of the act a culpable mental state, or mens rea (intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently). Since DUI is a strict liability offense, the prosecution must only prove that the offender committed the elements of the crime, also called the actus reus. Whether or not he knew that he was doing it is irrelevant.
The defendant in Newman was asleep and under the influence of alcohol when an episode of sleepwalking occurred. Unfortunately for Newman, his sleepwalking turned into sleepdriving. He was stopped by the police and arrested for DUI. At trial, the judge refused to allow an expert witness to testify about the phenomenon of sleepwalking, and how his subsequent driving was not a volitional act. Newman appealed all the way up to the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled that, at the very least, strict liability crimes require that a person engage in a volitional act before the act is considered criminal. As such, the case has been reversed and remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with that opinion, namely that the expert witness be allowed to testify. This case has no impact on Pennsylvania, but is still interesting for discussion. You can read more about Pennsylvania DUI law here.
Perhaps far more interesting than the legal principle at issue in this case is the factual issue. Can a person actually drive a car while sleeping? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section here.