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'Sleepwalking' Swede beats drunken driving charges

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16:27 CET+01:00
A 51-year-old Swedish man has been acquitted of drunken driving charges after a court couldn't rule out the possibility that the man was asleep when he got behind the wheel.

There is no doubt that the man was well above the legal limit when he awoke late one evening last May in the driver's seat of his car, which had careened into a ditch in Karlskrona in southern Sweden.

According to court documents, the man had a blood alcohol level of 1.85 per mille – nearly ten times Sweden's legal limit of 0.2 per mille.

"He fell asleep around 9pm. After that, he doesn't remember anything except that his next memory is that he woke up in the ditch outside his car together with a male named Magnus," reads the Blekinge District Court's ruling.

"He had on his nightshirt, sweatpants and slippers."

He explained to officers that he was on his to replenish his supply of snus, a wet snuff tobacco product popular in Sweden.

He also claimed he didn't feel under the influence when he got in his car and that he recalled veering off into the ditch and slamming into a post.

But during subsequent interrogations, the man claimed to have no memory of initial post-accident interview, only that "he spoke with a police officer and that he was in shock and extremely intoxicated when the interview took place."

In tossing out the drunken driving charges against the man, the court cited an opinion written by the man's doctor following the accident explaining that he may have suffered from somnambulism or sleepwalking.

"Somnambulism is a well known medical phenomenon where a person can carry out complex behaviours like walking, eating and making food, driving a car and having sex without actually being awake or aware of what's happening," wrote the doctor, according to court documents.

The doctor explained that the man had previously displayed behaviour that could be interpreted as sleepwalking after having taken the same pills he took the evening of the accident.

According to the court, the man "may have been affected by somnambulism and was unaware of his actions."

As a result, wrote the court in its ruling, "It cannot be shown beyond a reasonable doubt" that the man "was aware of his actions when he drove his car" to the extent required to find him guilty of drunken driving.

The man's attorney, Christer Holmqvist, wasn't surprised by the verdict.

"I actually expected an acquittal," he told The Local.

"But I can understand that the public might think otherwise, but when it comes to standards of evidence for a criminal conviction, all one needs is a reasonable alternative explanation [for an acquittal]."

Holmqvist said he expects the verdict will be appealed, citing recent media reports that the prosecutor in the case was unhappy with the verdict.

"I won't be surprised if it's appealed. I understand there is a certain amount of public pressure on a prosecutor to gain a conviction," he said.

The Local's attempts to reach prosecutor Malin Svensson for comment were unsuccessful.

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