D.C. DUI defense lawyers know that the issue in cases like this is one of “physical control.” Prosecutors in DUI cases have to prove two basic points: One is that you were intoxicated, and the second is that you were either operating or in physical control of the vehicle. Physical control means that you don’t actually have to be driving the vehicle. In fact, as this case shows, you could be sitting (or sleeping) in your vehicle with the keys in the ignition. This could be enough for the court to infer either that you had operated the vehicle under the influence or that you were in physical control.
This aspect of the law is unfortunate because it equally punishes a person who chooses to sleep in their vehicle, rather than drive it while impaired. However, an experienced defense attorney can, in many of these instances, successfully have the charges significantly reduced or even dropped.
In this case, the 65-year-old District employee was charged with both DUI and OWI. A judge recently dismissed the case due to the fact that prosecutors were not yet prepared to proceed. Although the defense had hoped it would end there, prosecutors responded by refiling the next day, according to the Washington Examiner. Now, his new arraignment is scheduled for later this month. He had previously pleaded not guilty.
Court records reveal the incident occurred in late September last year, around 3 in the afternoon on a weekday. That’s when a parking enforcement officer discovered the official sleeping in his vehicle, which was illegally parked outside of his office building, the Reeves Center.
The officer wrote up a ticket and then tried to rouse the sleeping man. However, the District boss reportedly became quite angry, and began shouting and swearing.
That’s when police officers were called to the scene. When they arrived, they noted the car keys were in the ignition and the engine was running. Additionally, there was an open bottle of wine under the floorboard of the passenger seat.
The official, who oversees a number of the city’s environmental and construction projects, reportedly admitted to having had a drink within the hour, and he proceeded to fail a number of sobriety tests. He was subsequently arrested.
Some cases are even more extreme than this. A similar situation out of Minnesota a few years ago made it all the way to the state’s high court, with a final decision being rendered just last month. A man who was undoubtedly highly intoxicated was found sleeping in his vehicle – keys in the center console – outside his own apartment building. The engine was cold, not to mention, the vehicle was actually inoperable, and wouldn’t start for officers attempting to impound it. There was virtually no evidence that he had actually driven the car at all that night. Yet he was arrested for DUI, and ultimately convicted. It didn’t help that the arrest was his fourth for DUI. However, the case was appealed numerous times amid the question of “physical control” of the vehicle. Unfortunately, the state supreme court ultimately upheld the conviction. It did, however, note that mere presence in or around a vehicle isn’t enough to prove DUI.
If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-596-5716.