It has been seen in the news time and time again that individuals have been arrested for DWI for sleeping in their cars. Some individuals simply go to their car to “sleep it off” before they take to the roads. When they have been at a bar and they simply don’t have a ride home or money for a cab, that’s what they decide to do in some cases.
So when the question regarding whether or not a person can get a DWI for sleeping in their car is asked, the answer to the question is “it depends.”
It was in 2010 that the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision regarding this issue. While the court did not say that every person who is asleep behind the wheel of a parked car will get a DWI, it does send a message that being over the legal blood alcohol content of .08 while behind the wheel of a vehicle, even if the vehicle was not driven, could result in a DWI charge in Minnesota. This charge could ultimately lead to a conviction.
The case is known as State v. Fleck and it is in this case that Mr. Fleck was parked in his apartment building’s parking lot while intoxicated. A neighbor called the police because they saw Mr. Fleck sleeping in the driver’s seat of his car with the door of the car open. Fleck had not been driving the vehicle, which was determined by officers because the car was not warm to the touch. The car had not been running, the lights were not on. His keys were in the center console rather than in the ignition. Before the case went to trial, officers had attempted to start the vehicle, but they could not start it. There was nothing that indicated the car was operable.
Mr. Fleck received the DWI charge because he was in “physical control” of the vehicle while he was impaired.
The Minnesota courts define “physical control” as a situation in which an intoxicated person is found in a parked motor vehicle in which the vehicle could be started without much difficulty and become a source of danger to others or the operator.
In other words, you have physical control of the vehicle if the means to put the vehicle into motion exists or you are in close proximity to the vehicle’s controls.
In State v. Juncewsky (Minn 1981), the court recognized that the law does not apply to passengers who hand over control of the car to another driver. It has also been determined that being around or in the vehicle is not enough to show a person has physical control. Instead, the court considered the situation as a whole, including the location of the keys, the proximity to the vehicle or the location within, whether or not the person was a passenger, the vehicle owner, and whether the vehicle would start.
There are some individuals who have had no intention of driving the car, but in the Starfield case, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that it doesn’t matter whether or not operation was intended. This can leave the matter up to a jury and juries do not ignore the facts when deciding whether or not to convict someone.
So if you believe that you are over the .08 limit, it is best to avoid going around your car, even if there is no intention to drive it. If you decide that you have to be in your car and you do not have a designated driver, it is best to not have the keys in the car at all. If the keys aren’t in the car, the police most likely won’t charge a DWI. If at all possible, it is best to make a phone call to a friend or a cab and get the vehicle later.