According to Section 169A.20 of the Minnesota Statutes Annotated, driving while impaired occurs when an individual is driving, operating, or in physical control of a vehicle and is under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. The vast majority of people who are arrested for DWI are pulled over while driving. However, did you know that you can be arrested for DWI even if your vehicle is not in motion?
While “driving” and “operating” are generally interpreted using their ordinary meanings, “physical control” is amorphous and is heavily dependent on the facts of each individual case. The jury instruction recommended by the Minnesota Supreme Court in State v. Duemke states that physical control is “being in a position to exercise dominion or control over the vehicle. Thus, a person [is] in physical control of a vehicle if he has the means to initiate any movement of that vehicle and he is in close proximity to the operating controls of the vehicle, and this is true whether the vehicle can be driven on the highway at that point or not.”
That’s a mouthful, not to mention confusing! Because physical control is a mixture of law and fact, it is helpful to use Minnesota cases as a basis for comparison.
For instance, the Court of Appeals has held that simply being in possession of car keys and stepping foot into a car, then relinquishing the keys to a designated driver is not enough to show either past or future physical control. In Snyder v. Commission of Public Safety, an individual was attending a wedding where he drank alcohol. He walked to his car with his keys in his hand, unlocked the driver’s side door, put one foot on the driver’s side floorboard, and then got out of the car, walked away, and threw the keys to his wife. This was not physical control.
But what if you’re not even inside the vehicle when the cops arrive? That can’t possibly qualify as physical control, correct? Wrong. In State v. Woodward, the car got a flat tire. The driver got out to put the spare on. The car was still on, and the key was sitting in the ignition. When the police arrived, the driver was standing by the trunk. Even though she was outside of the car, the Minnesota Court of Appeals found she was in physical control.
Okay, but when you’re trying to sober up by sleeping in your car, you’re fine, right? Again, the Minnesota Court of Appeals has held otherwise. The driver in State v. Juncewski decided to take a nap behind the wheel while parked with his keys in the ignition, and the appellate court found this constituted physical control.
To justify these somewhat outrageous rationales, the Minnesota Supreme Court has stated that physical control requires some evidence that the alleged driver “has or is about to take some action that makes the motor vehicle a source of danger to themselves, to others, or to property.”
In line with that reasoning, the high court has reversed a conviction for an individual taking no steps toward driving the vehicle. In Shane v. Commissioner of Public Safety, the ignition was running, and an intoxicated individual was sitting in the passenger seat. This passenger leaned toward the steering wheel and touched the gas pedal. However, the passenger never moved to the driver’s seat, placed his hands on the steering wheel, nor shifted the stick shift. The high court held there was insufficient proof that the passenger was about to drive the car.
Even though you may think you’re a DWI expert after this little primer, you should still consult with an experienced Minnesota DWI lawyer about whether the prosecutor has evidence to prove you were in physical control. Call Kans Law Firm LLC today at 952-835-6314 to schedule a free consultation.