After a night of heavy drinking, it is common for individuals to attempt to sleep off their intoxication in their parked vehicles, hoping to feel fine and drive off upon waking up. Unfortunately, many of these instances involve police officers charging these folks with a DWI. In many states throughout our country, including Texas, if you are intoxicated in your parked car, you may still be arrested for a DWI.
Under Texas law, an individual has committed a DWI if he or she is “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Although the Texas Penal Code expressly defines what it means to be “intoxicated” and what is considered a “motor vehicle,” it fails to define what “operating” means.
Basically, it is up to the courts to decide the definition.
The Texas courts typically interpret “operating” quite broadly when it comes to DWI charges. When evaluating the evidence whether sufficient evidence exists to support a conviction, they often decide that the word “operate” in relation to a vehicle occurs when “the totality of the circumstances…demonstrate that the defendant took action to affect the functioning of his vehicle that would enable the vehicle’s use.”
Within this definition, there are several situations in which a motorist could be convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated without ever moving it. For example, sleeping with your keys in the ignition is one of the ways that lead a police officer, judge, or jury to believe that you were intending to drive while under the influence. While that may not have been your intent, law enforcement may decide to arrest you regardless.
Other common behaviors that could fit into the court’s definition of operating a vehicle include:
- Sleeping in the driver’s seat
- Sleeping with your seatbelt on
- Starting your car to turn on the heater for warmth
- Listening to the radio in your car
DWI charges are difficult to defend because you must prove that you didn’t intend to drive your car while you were drunk. If you take certain precautions, you will fare much better fighting the charges.
These precautions include:
- Sleeping in the back seat
- Turning off the engine and the lights
- Keep your keys away from the ignition, preferably in the trunk or outside the vehicle
- Parking your vehicle in a legal space
In conclusion, our Hidalgo County criminal defense attorney at The Law Office of Rene A. Flores PLLC advises you not to try to sleep off your intoxication in your car. We suggest you request a ride from Uber or Lyft, or call a sober friend to pick you up. However, if you do decide to sleep it off in a parked car after a night of drinking, ensure you do everything you can to prevent the police from claiming you were “operating” the car.
If you have been arrested for a DWI, contact us and request a free phone consultation today.