When it comes to criminal law, there is a lot of confusing information and misinformation out there. Sometimes there is also a divide between the common perception of the laws, and what the laws actually state. DUIs are good examples of this.
The actual statute section for DUI is entitled “Driving while under the influence of alcohol, other drug or drugs, intoxicating compound or compounds or any combination thereof." For short, most people just refer to this section as DUI. By the title alone, however, it seems the law is against driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Therefore, if a person was not actually driving the vehicle, then they are not guilty, right? Well, not necessarily.
What the DUI law really prohibits is driving or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while operating under an inappropriate level or alcohol or drugs. Essentially, this means that a person does not actually have to be driving the vehicle at all, so long as they are in actual physical control of it. There has been quite a bit of litigation about the meaning of the words “in actual physical control," and the results may be surprising to you.
Courts have ruled that a person can be in actual physical control of a vehicle even if it is parked, not running, and the keys are not in the ignition. Maybe even more surprising, a person merely sleeping or sleeping-it-off in a car can also be found to be in actual physical control of the vehicle, despite the person obviously having no intention to drive.
In determining whether a person is in actual physical control, the court may consider many factors, including:
· Whether the vehicle was running;
· Whether the keys were in the ignition;
· Who possessed the keys;
· Who else was present ;
· Whether there was any other evidence of driving or an accident;
· Whether anyone witnessed the driving;
· Who did the vehicle belong to; etc.
This will always be a very fact specific analysis for the court, and the matter should be discussed with a DUI attorney in preparations for defending the case.