Legal Representation In Minnesota And Wisconsin

Can I really get a DWI while just sitting in my car?

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2023 | DWI/DUI |

Most drunk driving arrests follow a fairly typical pattern of events: a person is driving their car, a police officer pulls them over for some perceived traffic violation, the police officer suspects the person has been drinking alcohol, and the person subsequently fails field sobriety tests or a breath test. However, there is another type of DWI in Minnesota that’s a little less common and harder to comprehend. 

In Minnesota, you don’t actually need to be driving to be charged with a DWI. A person can, in fact, be charged with DWI for being in physical control of a motor vehicle. Physical control does not require actual operation of a motor vehicle and can include merely sitting in a car with the keys somewhere nearby (even keys that have been thrown off into the ditch). Here are some things you should know about physical control DWI in Minnesota.

Sleeping it off

What sometimes happens is that people will have driven to a location where they consumed alcohol, whether it’s a bar or a social gathering at a friend’s house. At the end of the night, they go out to their car to drive home and realize that they are probably over the legal limit and shouldn’t drive. So they decide that they’re just going to sleep it off in the car.

But if you’re sitting in the front seat of the car, with the keys in your hand – or anywhere near you – you could be legally in “physical control” of that vehicle. The car doesn’t have to be in motion. 

This can be more difficult to prove

Physical control DWI cases often get complicated. Essentially, the court is trying to look at whether or not you had the opportunity to take control of the vehicle. If you did, that can still count as being in control, even if you weren’t driving at the time that the police found you. Some factors that the court may consider include:

  • Where the keys were located 
  • Which seat you were sitting in 
  • Where the car was situated 
  • If the vehicle was operable

The reason for this is that the police don’t want to give people an out if they pull off to the side of the road while driving drunk and pass out. That person could then claim they weren’t actually driving, even though they were found with the keys in the ignition and clearly had been driving before.

But the problem that this creates is that someone who is trying to do the right thing – such as sleeping it off in their driveway before going on the road – could still be arrested. Your intent may have been to be safe, but you’re still in control of the vehicle and could face legal charges.

As noted, these are often complex cases, so it’s very important to understand all of the legal options you have at this time for your defense. Experienced legal guidance can help you learn more.