Can you be DUI in a parked car?

Under certain circumstances, the police can charge a person with OWI if they are intoxicated and sitting in a parked car. An attorney must evaluate essential issues 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. “Operating” becomes an issue if someone 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 whether they were operating. The person must be in “actual physical control” of the vehicle. In recent years, Michigan courts have defined “operating” differently.

Motion to Dismiss OWI in a Parked Car

Police officers frequently encounter people asleep in parked cars. In some cases, the person in the vehicle is intoxicated or under the influence. When is a Motion to Dismiss OWI appropriate? The analysis is more complex than you might imagine. Suppose someone is sleeping behind the wheel of their vehicle while it is stopped at a traffic light. The engine is running, and the car’s transmission is in “drive,” but their food rests on the break. It is unlikely a judge would dismiss this case. What about a situation where someone stopped in a parking lot, put their vehicle in park, but left their heat on to keep from freezing? A judge might consider dismissing a charge with these facts. It takes a reputable defense lawyer to persuade a judge or prosecutor to consider the dismissal of criminal charges, such as OWI in a parked car. “Plea lawyers” and lawyers who claim to have “special friendships” with authorities have little chance of getting charges dismissed because the judge knows their threats of litigation are hollow.

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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

“operating should be defined in terms of the danger the OUIL statute seeks to prevent: the collision of a vehicle 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. If someone faces an OWI in a parked car charge, the court must determine if they put others at risk. Often, a savvy, experienced OWI defense lawyer can persuade a judge that a case should be dismissed, depending on the facts and circumstances of the situation.

Using a Parked Car for Shelter – OWI or not?

Some cases would allow a convicted based on circumstantial evidence if the driver operated the motor vehicle sometime before the arrest. This argument can be challenging 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 when the driver operated the vehicle. The defense is almost always that the drinking occurred after parking the car.

If a defendant faces OWI in a parked car charge, the judge or jury will want to know if the vehicle was running. Was the car in drive, neutral, or park? Where are the keys in the ignition? The Michigan Court of Appeals has found that a person can use a vehicle as a shelter and found 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 physically in control when the vehicle was in gear but never moved. Putting the car in gear placed the car “in a position of posing a significant risk of causing a collision.”

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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. Often, missing deadlines can cause consequences such as license suspensions or even arrest warrants.

The good and affordable 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, including OWI in a parked car charges. Police officers, prosecutors, and judges have high regard for our firm. The defense of a drunk driver is far more complicated than 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 an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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