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What It Means To Be In Physical Control of a Vehicle For DWI Purposes

In Minnesota, it is illegal to operate, drive, or have physical control over a motor vehicle within Minnesota when an individual:

  • Is under the influence of alcohol;
  • Has a BAC of 0.08 or greater, or the BAC is 0.08 or greater 2 hours after operating, driving, or having physical control over the motor vehicle;
  • Has a BAC of 0.04 or greater at the time, or 2 hours after operating, driving, or having physical control over a commercial motor vehicle;
  • Knowingly is under the influence of a dangerous substance that affects their brain, nervous system, or muscles such that it impairs their ability to operate or drive a motor vehicle; or
  • Their body contains any amount of a drug listed in schedule I or II, other than marijuana. For marijuana, driving while impaired must be proven. Mere presence of marijuana in the body while driving is not a crime in itself.

DWI Law in Minnesota is Different than Other States

In some states, someone has to actually operate or drive a motor vehicle to be convicted of driving while intoxicated. However, in Minnesota, one only needs to have physical control over a motor vehicle to be convicted of DWI. The term “physical control” is more broad and all-encompassing than either the term to “drive” or to “operate.”

Physical Control of a Vehicle

An individual is considered to have “physical control” over a vehicle if they have the ability to start and move a vehicle, and they are near the operating controls of the vehicle. Presence alone either in or around a vehicle is not enough to prove physical control. Courts generally look at the whole picture, but some factors that are considered when determining whether a person is in physical control of a vehicle include the person’s location – whether they are in or near the vehicle, the location of the keys, whether there is a passenger in the vehicle, who owns the vehicle, and whether the vehicle is operable.

The purpose behind the broad definition of “physical control” is to deter intoxicated people from getting into vehicles except as passengers, and to act as a preventative measure to catch a drunken driver before he actually drives. The offense of having physical control over a motor vehicle while intoxicated is not intended to cover scenarios where the intoxicated person is a passenger, having relinquished the control of the vehicle to a designated driver.

Minnesota Supreme Court Stance Related to DWI

In State v. Fleck, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a DWI conviction based on the element of physical control where Mr. Fleck was found drunk while sleeping inside his vehicle. The vehicle was legally parked in an assigned residential parking spot, with the driver’s door open, and the keys in the console. When the officers arrived on the scene, the headlights and the radio were not on in the vehicle, and there was no indication that the vehicle had been recently operated or driven.

This was not a characteristic “physical control” scenario where one might conclude that physical control occurred because the vehicle was driven to the location where it was parked. Instead, someone could reasonably deduce that the person, who was found to be drunk, by himself, and sleeping behind the wheel of his own vehicle with the keys located within the console, was in a position to exercise physical control over that vehicle. A person in his position could also, without too much effort, cause the motor vehicle to become a danger to public safety. Accordingly, depending on the facts of your case, it is possible to be found guilty of DWI even if you are asleep in your own vehicle, or had yet to even attempt to drive at all.

If you have been charged with driving while intoxicated or impaired, it is important that you speak with a knowledgeable Minnesota DWI Attorney at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. An arrest and charge of DWI should be taken seriously and you should get the ball rolling quickly. Contact an experienced Minnesota DWI Lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. right away to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.

About the author

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.

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