DC DUI Catch-22: Why Sleeping It Off Can Still Lead to an Arrest

sleep-1431410What started out as a mission to satisfy a late-night craving, ended in disaster for one Florida man when a police officer found him sleeping in his car at a Taco Bell drive-thru.  As explained in a recent Los Angeles Times article, the driver fell asleep while placing his order early one Friday morning.  After the drive-thru attendant woke the driver up, he pulled his car into a parking spot to wait for his order there.  Not long after the driver parked his car, a police officer who had been dining inside the restaurant, noticed him sleeping.  The driver explained to the officer that he was just waiting on the food he’d ordered, but the officer knew something the man did not—he had actually never ordered his food.  Suspecting the driver may be under the influence, the officer asked him to take a roadside breath test but he refused.  However, the man was eventually charged with DUI after failing a field sobriety test.

This news article demonstrates the confusing nature of what it means to “operate” a motor vehicle while intoxicated or under the influence.  Employing the general standards of common sense, one would think the driver wasn’t in control of his vehicle in this situation because the car was parked and the driver was asleep.  In the District of Columbia, however, common sense does not prevail.

Under DC DUI law, “operate” is defined as actual physical control over the vehicle, and “physical control” means capable of putting the vehicle into movement or preventing movement.  What it means to be capable of moving or preventing movement has been decided by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals includes a wide variety of scenarios.

The most obvious scenario of a driver being capable is one who is actually caught in the act of driving.  Another obvious scenario would be a driver sitting in the front seat of a parked car with the engine on.  Capability becomes less obvious when the driver is not caught in the act or the engine is not on.  Think about the following situations:

Is a driver capable if he or she is sitting in the front seat of a parked car with the engine off but the keys are in the ignition?  Under DC law, yes.  What if the driver is asleep?  Under DC law, yes.  What if the driver is asleep and the keys are in his or her pocket?  Under DC law, yes.  What about standing outside the vehicle with keys in your pocket while waiting on an Uber?  DC Law is not entirely clear on that point and its very likely District prosecutors would try to prosecute someone under that scenario.

Essentially, DC law on operating a motor vehicle is a “Catch-22.”  Do you avoid drinking and driving by sleeping it off in your car but risk getting a DUI?  Or do you drive drunk but risk getting a DUI?  In either scenario, you risk arrest.  Accordingly, if you plan on drinking, its best you do not even bring your car out at all.

In the unfortunate event that you are charged with a DC DUI, it is important that you hire an experienced attorney who can argue that you were not operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.  At Scrofano Law PC, we have successfully helped our clients to avoid DUI convictions.

If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DC DUI or DWI, call Scrofano Law PC immediately for a consultation, and remember: Before you blow, call Joe!

Additional Resources:

Florida Man Gets DUI After Nodding Off in Taco Bell Drive-thru, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2016.