Every state has some type of law that prohibits driving under the influence. What some people may not be aware of is that simply sitting in a parked car while under the influence may be just as serious an offense.
Many states have laws that make it illegal to be in “actual physical possession” of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Simply put, if a person drinks one too many, is inside a vehicle, and has the ability to operate the vehicle, he can be charged with DWI even if he was not driving the vehicle at the time.
In other words, if a person drinks too much at a bar and decides to sleep it off inside his car, even if the car is not running, if he has the keys and could have driven the vehicle, he can be charged with a DWI if he is caught.
In an example from Minnesota, a neighbor called the police because a man was sleeping inside his car in the parking lot of his apartment complex. When the police arrived, the car was not running, the keys were in the center console, and the engine was cold. The sleeping man had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .18, more than double the legal limit for intoxication in Minnesota, and had prior DWI offenses. When the police tried to move the car, however, it wouldn’t start. Even though the car was inoperable at the time, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the DWI conviction.
There are other instances where intoxicated individuals have been charged with DWI without actually driving. Such instances include a man in Florida who went to his car to listen to music after an argument with his roommate, a North Carolina woman sleeping in her running car outside a fast food restaurant, a New Jersey man passed out in the bed of his pickup truck at a campsite, and a Canadian man pushing his vehicle on foot.
Because DWI laws can be tricky, if you are arrested or charged with DWI, it is important that you seek experienced legal counsel to protect your rights.