News reports across the country have repeatedly shown individuals being charged with DWI for sleeping in their vehicles… the victims are usually impaired drivers who decided to take a quick nap or sleep it off before heading home. Is this behavior acceptable in the state of Minnesota? The answer is “it depends.”
The Minnesota Supreme Court issued a decision on this very issue in January 2010. Although they did not blatantly state that all drivers who fall asleep while behind the wheel of a parked car should be charged with a DWI, the court did imply that individuals might be charged or convicted if their legal blood alcohol content is over .08, even if the vehicle is not necessarily being driven.
According to Minnesota courts, it is not only considered illegal to operate or drive a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or while over the .08 legal limit, but it is also considered against the law to be in “physical control” of a vehicle when you are either impaired or over the .08 legal limit.
To be in “physical control” of a vehicle, as defined by state laws, means to either initiate movement of the vehicle or to be in close proximity to its operating controls where the individual might start the vehicle without much difficulty. This is meant to cover instances when an intoxicated individual might be a source of danger to others and to property, and is also an attempt to deter intoxicated individuals from getting into vehicles except as passengers.
In the case of State v. Fleck, a man named Daryl Fleck was tipsy, stumbled out of his apartment building, and decided to sleep it off in the car one night back in 2007. It did not matter that the Crookston man had consumed roughly 12 beers.
His felony conviction of drunk driving earned him 48 months in custody and five years of probation, even if he was legally parked in his parking slot and his car was not running. In this particular instance, the car engine was cold and Fleck’s keys were located in the center console—far from the ignition. His blood alcohol level, however, was more than double the legal limit at .18.
A seven-page decision stated that the jury reasonably concluded that Fleck was in “physical control” of his vehicle at the time of arrest. The jury could reasonably determine that Fleck was in a position to take control over his car and make the vehicle a source of danger without too much effort. This gave Fleck his fourth DWI conviction and a four-year prison sentence.
Minnesota courts recognize that physical control cannot be determined merely by being in or around a vehicle, and that such law will not apply to a passenger who gives control of the vehicle to another driver. Therefore, Minnesota courts will first consider the overall situation, which includes but is not limited to the location of the keys, the individual’s location in proximity to the vehicle, whether the vehicle was operable, whether the person was a passenger in that vehicle, and who owned the vehicle.
If you’re out drinking, therefore, it might be better to find another ride home, take a cab, or make sure your keys are with a friend before crawling into your vehicle for a nap.