Criminal Defense in Ventura County
Can You Get a DUI for Sleeping in Your Car?

Can You Get a DUI for Sleeping in Your Car?

When a person leaves a venue too inebriated to operate a vehicle, a common alternative is to sleep in their car in order to sober up. But if a police officer happens upon a sleeping motorist, the question becomes whether they can be arrested for a California DUI.

Although some states hold that an individual can be arrested, charged, and convicted of a DUI if they are in “dominion and control” of their vehicle—meaning they have the ability to drive it—even if may not have actually driven it, California is not one of those states. This means that state prosecutors must prove that the person actually drove their vehicle.

Mercer v. DMV

In 1991, the California Supreme Court in the case of Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles held that the word “drive” in California’s means that the defendant volitionally and voluntarily moved the car. The court has held that even the slightest movement is enough to fulfill the requirement that the defendant drove the vehicle as long as it was voluntary.

Furthermore, the court pointed out that the phrase “actual physical control” does not appear anywhere in the drunk driving offense statutes. Since “driver” is defined as one who drives or is in actual physical control, the two terms (drive vs. actual physical control) need to have different meanings. In the end, the court ruled that mere actual physical control is not enough to constitute driving. Hence, the term “drive” requires volitional movement of the vehicle—at least for the purpose of DUI statutes.

Circumstantial Evidence

If a person is discovered to be asleep in their vehicle, it is likely that a police officer did not see the individual drive. Therefore, there may not be any direct evidence for a prosecutor to prove that a person drove while intoxicated.

However, a prosecutor can use circumstantial evidence to prove that the person drove to where they were found while under the influence and then fell asleep.

Circumstantial evidence that may prove you were driving include:

  • An engine or hood that is still warm
  • Tires that are still warm
  • Your keys were in the ignition
  • Your vehicle’s gear is in drive
  • A car in any part of the roadway, such as being slightly over the shoulder line
  • A vehicle damaged and next to the scene of an accident

Will I Walk Away Without Being Arrested?

If direct and circumstantial evidence does not exist, it would be difficult for the prosecution to prove that the defendant drove the vehicle while being under the influence. However, the person may still be charged with another criminal offense, such as drunk in public.

In conclusion, no individual should be in their own vehicle whether they’ve driven it or not. The best alternative is to request a ride from a ridesharing app or have a designated driver pick you up.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Ventura County, CA, request a free consultation with our experienced legal team at The Law Offices of Jarrod M. Wilfert today

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