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Sleeping Drunk in a Car Can Get You a DWI

Motorists in many states have been charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) after sleeping drunk in a car. Ironically, this scenario can arise because a motorist is attempting to make a responsible decision to “sleep it off” after realizing he or she had too much to drink.

Proof of Actually Driving a Vehicle Not Required

A police officer does not need to prove a motorist had previously been driving the vehicle. In Minnesota, you can have “physical control” of a vehicle even if you did not drive to where a vehicle is parked. The person arrested does not even have to possess the subjective intention to drive during the period he or she is still intoxicated.

The law is broadly construed to permit police to act proactively in removing intoxicated drivers from the road. This liberal approach to interpreting Minnesota DWI law makes it important to understand the risk of consuming alcohol before sleeping drunk in your vehicle.

Minnesota has a Broad Definition of Physical Control

Even sleeping drunk in the backseat of a parked car does not guarantee you will not be arrested for DWI. The Minnesota DWI laws (Minn. Stat. § 169A.20) goes beyond simply driving and makes it a crime to “drive, operate or be in physical control” of a motor vehicle while under the influence.

The term “physical control” has the broadest reach in terms of the risk of a motorist being subject to a conviction for DWI. The Minnesota Supreme Court in State v. Fleck, 777 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. 2010) upheld a DWI conviction in the face of a challenge based on the issue of “physical control.”

The state’s highest court found that an accused was in physical control despite the following facts:

  1. The vehicle’s driver side door was open
  2. The motorist was asleep
  3. The vehicle was legally parked in an assigned residential parking spot
  4. The keys were in the center console of the vehicle
  5. No devices within the vehicle were turned on (e.g., headlights, car stereo)
  6. There was no indication the car had been driven or operated recently

All of these facts that would seem to suggest the accused was not engaging in conduct that posed a danger to others, but this decision demonstrates how broadly the term “physical control” is construed under Minnesota law.

In fact, our state courts have interpreted the change in language from “actual physical control” to just “physical control”, indicating this term is to be construed broadly to prevent intoxicated drivers from entering vehicles as passengers only.

Even Sleeping Drunk Outside the Vehicle is Risky

Even if you consider taking the risk associated with sleeping drunk outside your vehicle, this does not provide an assurance of avoiding a DWI prosecution.

If caught sleeping drunk in a vehicle by the police, the location of the keys is not dispositive. However, the possession, control, or access to the car keys with the ability to turn the ignition on, does increase the risk of a DWI conviction.

A driver can be convicted of DWI even if the person has been sleeping drunk in the front or backseat of a parked vehicle.

When considering the broad interpretation given to the “physical control” element under Minnesota DWI law, you should be aware that you can be convicted, even if your keys were put away in your pocket and the vehicle was turned off while asleep.

Best to Just Avoid the Whole Thing – Get a Sober Ride Home

Generally, the best approach to avoid facing a DWI charge would be to plan ahead by arranging to have a designated driver to take you home.

Alternatively, you might want to entrust your car keys to a third party, making it harder to argue you are in a position to exercise dominion or physical control over the vehicle.

Charged with DWI? Seeking Legal Advice is Critical

If you were charged with DWI but were not “driving” in the everyday sense of the term, representation by a skilled Minnesota DWI lawyer is advisable. It is a complicated issue that often relies on subtle factual distinctions.

If you have been arrested for DWI, you should immediately assert your right to remain silent and seek legal advice.

We invite you to speak to a Minnesota DWI Lawyer at Gerald Miller, P.A. as soon as possible. The sooner you call, the sooner we can start protecting your rights.

Contact us today to schedule your free and confidential case evaluation.

About the author

Gerald Miller

Gerald Miller is a top-notch and experienced DWI/DUI lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. in Minneapolis, MN. He has more than 35 years of experience in Criminal Defense practice. He has also been a mentor to numerous DUI/DWI defense attorneys.

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