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Is Sleeping In Your Car While Intoxicated a Crime in Minnesota?

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It may be a surprise to learn that you can be charged with – and possibly convicted of – a DWI crime in Minnesota, even if your car has not moved one inch. In addition to driving, Minnesota’s DWI laws also prohibit motorists from "operating" or being in "physical control" of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol or with an alcohol concentration of .08 or more.

Many people believe that pulling off the side of the road or to a rest area if they suddenly feel unsafe to drive after drinking will protect them from DWI charges. Unfortunately, this is not true.

So, bizarre as it may seem, you can get a DWI in Minnesota without actually driving.

Minnesota’s DWI law, Minn. Stat. § 169A.20, makes it illegal for any person “to drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle” while:

  • under the influence of alcohol; or
  • under the influence of a controlled substance; or
  • under the influence of an intoxicating substance and the person knows or has reason to know that the substance has the capacity to cause impairment; or
  • under the influence of a combination of any two or more of the elements listed above; or
  • having an alcohol concentration at the time, or as measured within two hours of the time, of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the motor vehicle is 0.08 or more; or
  • (in a commercial motor vehicle) having an alcohol concentration at the time, or as measured within two hours of the time, of driving, operating, or being in physical control of the commercial motor vehicle is 0.04 or more; or
  • having any amount of a controlled substance listed in Schedule I or II, or its metabolite, other than marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols.

The terms “drive,” “operate,” and “physical control” are not defined in the statute. Accordingly, Minnesota courts have attempted to interpret what the legislature intended when enacting the law.  

Minnesota courts have adopted a "totality of the circumstances" approach to determine whether the impaired motorist was driving, operating, or in physical control of a motor vehicle at the time of the offense. Factors that courts and juries may consider include:

  • location of the driver;
  • location of the car;
  • location of the keys;
  • whether the car was running; and
  • whether the driver was conscious or unconscious.

Minnesota courts have interpreted the physical control law consistent with the legislative policy of deterring drunk individuals from getting into their cars, except as passengers.

For each conviction where a driver was found to have been in physical control of a motor vehicle, courts have recognized there were circumstances that either established that the person drove the vehicle to the place where authorities discovered the driver, or they had the ability to continue on an inebriated journey at any moment, presenting a danger to the public.

Recently, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a DWI conviction on physical control grounds where the impaired driver was found sleeping inside his vehicle. His vehicle was legally parked in an assigned residential parking spot, with the driver’s door open, and the keys in the console; not the ignition. Neither the headlights nor the radio was turned on and officers arriving on the scene found nothing to suggest that the vehicle had been recently operated or driven to the parking spot.

However, reasoning that it was possible that the man could start his vehicle and could drive it away, presenting a potential danger to others, the Minnesota Supreme Court found there was sufficient evidence to prove he was in physical control of his vehicle and therefore guilty of DWI.

So even if you were asleep and your vehicle was not running at the time, you may be charged with DWI in Minnesota.

If you find yourself facing DWI or OWI charges under the physical control laws and need to explore your options for getting your driving privileges restored, our seasoned lawyers can help. Attorneys are available 24-7 — Call us at 612-334-3342.

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