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 discovered the phrase “actual physical control” failed to be mentioned in the laws. In the end, the court ruled that only having actual physical control of the vehicle is not the same as driving it. Hence, volitional movement of the vehicle is required to be considered "driving"—at least for the purpose of DUI statutes.
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 Wilfert Law P.C. today