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When Sleeping in A Vehicle Can Get You Arrested for A Virginia DUI

July 25, 2019

It's summer. It's hot outside. Inside, you had one too many alcoholic beverages. Upon getting in your vehicle in the parking lot, you decide to close your eyes for a minute – to wait out the alcohol. As the night progresses and the parking lot empties, the police find your vehicle still parked. They flash a light into the vehicle and find you there, asleep.

Before you know it, you are arrested for a DUI and taken into custody to be booked. How did this happen when you didn't even intend to drive while intoxicated? Because the law allows it to be so. Here is what you should know.

You Can Be Arrested for A DUI in Virginia While Sleeping in Your Car.

It's true. You weren't even driving and yet you are arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. How is that possible? According to Virginia Code § 18.2-266, you commit a crime when you drive or operate a vehicle while illegally intoxicated or impaired.

The meaning of "operate" has been broadly defined by Virginia courts and may not seem logical at first glance. In Commonwealth v. Enriquez, 283 Va. 511 (2012), the court said:

When an intoxicated person is seated behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle on a public highway and the key is in the ignition switch, he is in actual control of the vehicle, and therefore, is guilty of operating the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol within the meaning of Code § 18.2-266.

Thus, if you are behind the wheel on a public highway with the keys in the ignition, you are effectively "operating" the vehicle even if the engine is not turned on, even if you are not awake, even if your intent to drive is absent.

Next, time, if you want to wait for the alcohol to dissipate, leave the keys out of the ignition. Better yet, always make sure you have a safe way to get home after a night of drinking with friends.

The Police Can Conduct a Wellness Check in Virginia to Make Sure You Are Well.

Some of you may have heard that the police need reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed before pulling you over – though in this case, you are already "pulled over." And that's true in most cases, except in cases where someone – an officer or someone else – sees you or another person in a vehicle and presumably unconscious.

In these situations, an officer can make a wellness check. So, without reasonable suspicion, the office can "check" on you. And, if this check results in a suspicion that you have been drinking and then got behind the wheel of your vehicle, a DUI investigation can then take place.

You Can Fight the Charge with An Experienced DUI Attorney in Charlottesville, VA.

You should always keep in mind, though, that you can fight your DUI charge. With the guidance and strategic know-how of an experienced DUI attorney in Charlottesville, you can expect the best defense that can result in the best outcome for your unique situation. Contact Bryan J. Jones, trusted DUI lawyer, today to get answers to your DUI questions.