Sleep apnea is the most frequently diagnosed sleep disorder in the United States. It’s also becoming a “go to” criminal defense for many trial attorneys.
Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during a sleep cycle. The use of sleep apnea as a defense holds that the defendant isn’t guilty for his or her actions because sleep apnea caused him or her to suddenly fell asleep prior to the illegal act. It’s a variation on the sleepwalking defense that’s been around for several decades.
Some experts contend that there are circumstances in which this sleep-breathing disorder may cause otherwise responsible people to commit dangerous acts. Many courts have found that sleep apnea is not a strong defense. However, there are cases where the disorder may explain the dangerous or offensive behavior. There is plenty of evidence that shows that sleep apnea significantly increases the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel and being involved in a crash.
A recent article in the New York Post questions a physical conducted by the employer’s company that approved a train engineer before a fatal crash where he slammed into a station at twice the speed limit. The operator said his sleep apnea caused him to fall asleep at the time.