In an interesting case out of South Dakota, the state Supreme Court ruled that a man who had been convicted of drunk driving ought to have his charges dismissed because he was not actually driving at the time. Rather than be charged with a crime, the Court decided that the driver had done the right thing and was only convicted based on an overly broad reading of the state’s drunk driving laws.
The Court voted to 3-2 to reverse Donald Nekolite’s DUI conviction, deciding that the man had been wrongly convicted. The case began back in September of 2012, when Nekolite and his girlfriend had gone out for a night of dinner, drinking and dancing. Though Nekolite was drinking heavily, his girlfriend remained completely sober, following a plan the two had agreed to before ever setting out.
Later that evening, Nekolite took a break from dancing and went out to this vehicle to get a cigarette. When he opened the passenger door of the truck, Nekolite had to reach across the seat to retrieve a cigarette that had fallen on the floor. While doing so, he managed to bump the shifter and caused the truck to roll backwards slightly, just enough to bump into another vehicle.
An officer arrived on the scene and, noticing Nekolite’s state of intoxication, charged the man with a DUI. The case made its way before a judge who convicted Nekolite, deciding that the man had actual physical control of the vehicle at the time he was impaired and thus deserved to face punishment for his actions.
Nekolite’s drunk driving defense attorney appealed the case all the way up to the state Supreme Court and argued that Nekolite had done everything he could to be responsible that evening. Rather than drive drunk, he chose a designated driver who remained sober and safe to drive them both home. The fender bender was a complete accident and did not occur because Nekolite was actually operating the car.
The majority opinion stated that Nekolite was not using his vehicle in a usual or ordinary manner at the time of the arrest because he was standing outside of the vehicle and merely reaching across the seat. Given this lack of ordinary usage, Nekolite could not be said to have been in actual physical control of the truck and his conviction deserved to be dismissed.
Nekolite’s attorney says that his client’s case represents a good example of laws being applied in a manner far more broadly than they were ever intended. The lawyer believes that DUI laws are aimed at punishing purposeful conduct and other knowingly irresponsible decisions, not accidents like what occurred in this case.
Source: “South Dakota court overturns man’s DUI charge,” by The Associated Press, published at ThePublicOpinion.com.