Can you be DUI in a parked car?

The police can charge a person with OWI if he is intoxicated and sitting in a parked car, under certain circumstances. There are important questions that must be answered to determine if there is a defense to the charges.

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Will the judge rule that a person in the driver’s seat of a vehicle was “operating” relative to an OWI charge?

The answer is that it depends. To be convicted of an OWI in a parked car, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was operating a motor vehicle. Usually operating is not an issue. However, it does become an issue if the person is found sleeping or passed out in a car. Cases with unconscious drivers typically stem from situations where police investigate a car stopped along the side of a road or in a vacant parking lot.

The passed out, or sleeping person can be the basis for a possible motion to dismiss or make it challenging to raise reasonable doubt at trial because of the question of whether they were operating.  The person must be in “actual physical control” of the vehicle.  In recent years, Michigan courts have defined operating in many different ways.

What is “operating” under the influence of alcohol?

In 1995, the Michigan Supreme Court decided the case of People v Wood. The Wood case defined operating as “[o]perating should be defined in terms of the danger the OUIL statute seeks to prevent: the collision of a vehicle being operated by a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor with other persons or property.  Once a person using a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle has put the vehicle in motion, or in a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision, such a person continues to operate it until the vehicle is returned to a position posing no such a risk.”  So, a person is in actual physical control until the risk of collision no longer exists.

Some cases allow that a person can be convicted based on circumstantial evidence if a reasonable conclusion could be reached that the person was operating the motor vehicle sometime before the arrest.  This can be difficult if the prosecutor cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that the person was driving (and not someone else), and the blood alcohol was over the legal limit at the time the vehicle was operated.  The claim is almost always that the drinking occurred after the car was parked.

The court will need to know if the car was running or off?  Was the car in drive, neutral, or park?  Where the keys in the ignition?  The Michigan Court of Appeals has found that a person can use a vehicle as a shelter and found that there was no actual physical control because there was no intent to put the car in gear. In another case, the Court of Appeals also decided the driver was in actual physical control when the car was in gear, but never moved.  The act of putting the car in gear placed the car “in a position of posing a significant risk of causing a collision.”

This is a very complex area of the law and is often decided on a case by case basis.

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Drunk Driving Law in Michigan is Complicated

If you are facing DUI charges, it is essential that you get the premier DUI attorneys in Michigan to help you immediately. There are often deadlines that cannot be missed without causing consequences such as license suspensions or even arrest warrants.  

The attorneys at LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. are some of the highest regarded DUI attorneys in Michigan. Our attorneys have taken the time to become well-educated and well-versed in the area of defending people charged with drunk driving.  We are highly regarded by police officers, prosecutors, and judges. The defense of a drunk driver is far more complicated then the “average” lawyer believes. That is why it is crucial to put your future and trust in the hands of the highly successful and highly experienced attorneys of LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation, or complete a Request for Assistance Form and we will contact you promptly.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
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