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Can I Get a DUI if I’m Parked?

Fiol Law Group|Posted in Safety on May 30, 2019

Many gray areas exist regarding what the public truly knows about civil law. Many issues hinge on small technicalities that determine whether someone has technically broken the law or not. One such example lies in the phrase “driving under the influence.” This may seem extremely straightforward, but gray areas come in when someone asks if drinking in a parked car counts as a DUI. Or if sleeping in your car while intoxicated, instead of driving home, truly is the safest option both physically and legally.

Driving under the influence typically implies that the driver has consumed, in some way, a substance that alters their state of being. Illicit drugs, alcohol, and even prescription medication fall under this umbrella. However, a DUI charge can also apply to those who fall asleep at the wheel.

DUI While Sleeping

Each state determines whether a driver can be charged with DUI while sleeping in their car. In states like Florida, where you can be charged with DUI, rules surround the circumstances of the charge. Most importantly, the driver must be impaired in some way and unfit to drive their car. If the driver satisfies this criterion, the police must then determine if the driver had control of the car. This requires some discrimination on the officer’s part. For example, an impaired, sleeping driver who is sitting in the driver’s seat with the engine running qualifies as being in control of the vehicle. In most cases, this is determined by how close the key is to the car’s ignition, and how close you are to the driver’s seat.

Falling asleep while on a roadway is both dangerous and qualifies for a DUI. Police officers do not know what mental state you are in; for all they know, you could be black-out drunk or under the influence of an opiate that induced you to pass out. To prevent misunderstandings of this sort, you can think of drowsy driving as a subset of DUI, though in this case you’d just be under the influence of sleep deprivation. Though this is not grounds for a DUI, an officer can still fine you for reckless endangerment if they aren’t patient enough to let you off with a warning.

What Details Do Prosecutors Count as Evidence?

If an officer does charge you with DUI while sleeping in your car, you can challenge this in court. The prosecutor will look for several details that could be used as evidence against you to prove that one of several scenarios took place.

You drove the car before falling asleep (driver-related evidence):

  • Parking/emergency brakes that are not activated
  • The car is still in gear
  • The keys are still in the ignition

You attempted to drive the car before falling asleep:

  • The defendant was found in the driver’s seat
  • The key was in the defendant’s hand
  • The key was placed near the ignition
  • The car engine is running

You drove the car recently before falling asleep:

  • The car engine is warm to the touch
  • The door is open
  • The car is still on or in gear

Prosecution will use these details against you in court to prove that you did, or intended to, drive under the influence.

How Can I Safely Sleep in My Car?

If you do find yourself needing a place to sleep while intoxicated, do not turn the car on. Roll windows down to encourage airflow, but do not make it look like you’ve recently driven the car or are intending to drive it in the near future. As stated above, a warm engine is evidence. Your sleeping location should always be in the backseat, or if pressed for space, reclined in the passenger seat. Toss your keys into the backseat, onto the ground, or put them in your glovebox. If your keys are hidden away, it communicates that you do not intend to drive the vehicle.

Although it is possible to get a DUI while sleeping in your car, this is only if it looks like you have already driven the car or were planning to drive it. This is significant because your DUI charge could literally hinge on a technicality like the car being on – even if you were only using it for heat or air conditioning. Set yourself up for success and keep these details in mind the next time you find yourself sleeping in your car rather than risking the drive home.