A parolee who was acquitted last month after arguing he was "sleep-driving" on Ambien when he crashed his truck -- not high on drugs -- was scheduled to be freed Wednesday after parole-violation charges for the same incident were dismissed.
It wasn't at all clear how Kevin Robertson's hearing would turn out because the controversial "Ambien defense'' his attorney Jennifer Redding used in the criminal case has met with mixed results in courts from Massachusetts to Texas to Orange County.
In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration warned that Ambien and 12 other insomnia drugs can cause rare "complex sleep-related behaviors" including "sleep-driving, making phone calls and preparing and eating food (while asleep)" that leave patients with no memory of events.
Despite the jury's not-guilty verdict, parole-board Commissioner Ronald Herron could have chosen to hear the case and would not have had to follow the panel's example.
Herron also had the latitude to impose a six-month jail sentence because the standard of proof necessary to find a parolee committed a violation -- in Robertson's case, driving under the influence of a drug and resisting arrest -- is lower than in criminal court.
But Herron dismissed the matter in eight minutes when no police officers or other witnesses to the June 20 non-injury crash in Santa Clara showed up to testify against Robertson.
"I feel like justice was served,'' said Robertson, as he shuffled back
Redding, his lawyer in the four-day jury trial, had shown up for the hearing, ready to testify that jurors had acquitted him after deliberating for less than an hour.
"I just hope he (Robertson) gets the medical treatment he needs,'' said Redding, a deputy public defender, after the matter was dismissed.
Robertson, 45, has a number of serious health conditions -- including liver problems, a staph infection and hepatitis C -- and had been prescribed seven medications including Ambien, Benadryl and morphine, some of which showed up in a blood test after the crash.
He said he had planned to go to sleep early that night after an exhausting day in the hospital emergency room. The last thing he remembers is lying down about 8 p.m. with his dog Lily and popping the Ambien. His lawyer argued he fell asleep and remained unconscious while driving and crashing onto a sidewalk.
The commissioner's decision will save the taxpayers money. Housing a minimum-security inmate such as Robertson costs about $116 a day. But Robertson has been far more expensive because he's been rushed to the hospital four times. During the brief hearing, he repeatedly bent over and groaned in pain, and said he planned to use his private medical insurance to get treatment at a hospital as soon as he was released.
Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482.