I have heard that inebriation starts with the first drink of alcohol, and, the more a person drinks, the more suspect the decisions that are made. In a recent Florida case, sisters were subjected to a traffic stop, and, after the vehicle was stopped, the sisters switched places in the car from passenger to driver and vice versa. I have heard of this event happening many times, meaning a drunk driver switches seats with a sober passenger in an attempt to avoid Driving Under the Influence charges. The primary problem here was that the passenger was also under the influence, so there was no sober person in the car. The second problem was that the switch was made right in front of the officer, so the officer clearly saw the switch. The third problem was that by getting behind the wheel, the initial passenger took "actual physical control" of the vehicle and thereby could be charged with a DUI.
DUI Charge Does not Require "Driving" Vehicle
Almost everyone knows that DUI stands for driving under the influence, but many people are not aware that the Pennsylvania Driving Under the Influence law in 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802 prohibits a person from driving, operating, or being in "actual physical control" of a motor vehicle. Whether a person is in actual physical control is based upon a review of many factors, including, but not limited to, the following: where the car is located; whether the person is in the driver's seat versus elsewhere in the car; if the keys are in the ignition; if the car is running, and whether the person is wearing a seatbelt. The factors generally show that the person either recently drove in the past or intended to drive in the future. For example, if a car is parked in the middle of nowhere and there is no alcohol in the area, it is circumstantial evidence that the person drank alcohol elsewhere and then drove to the scene, meaning that the person had probably driven under the influence in the recent past. If a person is found passed out in a car that is parked in a parking lot, with the car running and seatbelt on, the person is likely to be charged with DUI because it appears that the person was about to drive but passed out.
In a prior Bellefonte DUI case, I represented a client that had left a local bar on New Year's Eve and headed to the parking lot to sleep. The man entered his vehicle, started it for heat as it was in the middle of winter, and fell asleep behind the wheel while he waited for a friend to take him home. The vehicle was never moved, and a bar employee confirmed that she was going to take my client home after she got off work. There is a Pennsylvania appellate court case in which the court found that a person was not in "actual physical control" if they were sleeping in a running vehicle in the parking lot of the bar, and I brought this case to the district attorney's attention. Based upon the precedential opinion, the district attorney dismissed the Centre County DUI charges against my client.
Charged With DUI, Get a DUI Lawyer
As a State College DUI lawyer since 2004, I have seen many people try to argue for a dismissal of DUI charges based upon an argument that they were "sleeping off" the DUI and not in actual physical control. The problem with many of the arguments is that they are based upon a summary understanding of the law. For example, clients that were driving and pulled over because they were too drunk to drive cannot claim that they were not in actual physical control. The sleeping it off in the bar parking lot case has been viewed narrowly by courts and prosecutors, meaning it is very difficult to fit the facts of a case within the parameters of that case and obtain a dismissal. The most important thing that a person charged with DUI can do is to contact an experienced DUI lawyer for a consultation. The Centre County DUI defense law firm of JD Law, P.C., has represented hundreds of people charged with DUI in Centre, Clearfield, Huntingdon, Clinton, Blair, and Cambria counties and provides free case evaluations and consultations.