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Defining Driving in DC DUI Cases

In the context of a DC DUI case, the term driving does not necessarily mean the person sat in the front seat, turned on the ignition of the car, put the car in drive, and pressed on the gas pedal. Instead, all that needs to be proven is that the individual had operational control of the vehicle, which in some cases can simply mean sitting in the driver’s seat with access to the ignition key.

Even if a person is fast asleep in the car with the key in the ignition, or the key is near the ignition, the person can be considered to be in operational control of the vehicle. The DC laws consider that person to have the ability to wake up, take out their key, put the key in the ignition, and move the vehicle.  To better understand this definition, contact a DC DUI attorney.

Proving Operational Control

When the prosecution tries to prove a DUI case in DC, they do not need to prove the person was driving the car but instead that the person was in operational control of their vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, medication, or some combination of the three.

That means the police do not necessarily need to see a person in their car if they have other evidence showing the person was in operational control of the vehicle and was under the influence at that time. However, this opens the door for an experienced lawyer to make arguments to challenge the government’s allegations that the person was ever in physical control of the vehicle.

For example, a person is asleep in the driver’s seat of the car with the car’s ignition off and the keys are in an inaccessible location outside of the occupant’s reach. A defense attorney can make the argument that the client was not in operational control of the vehicle and had no ability to put that car into motion because the ignition keys were not immediately accessible to the occupant of the car.

Can a Person be Charged with a DUI Without Driving?

Even though DUI stands for driving under the influence, a person does not have to be caught with the car in motion or even with the engine turned on to be considered driving for the purposes of a DUI. A person can be arrested and convicted for driving under the influence even when they are simply seated in the front seat of their car, or asleep in the front seat of their car.

In these situations, they are considered to be in operational control of their vehicle and are in the same position as a person seated in the front seat, with the ignition on, and the car in motion.

Typically, people are not arrested for DUI based on tips from civilians or non-police officers, unless there is an accident. When there is an accident, the police arrive on the scene and will perform a DUI investigation. If there is no accident and someone calls police to report someone driving under the influence that may not usually result in a DUI investigation.

DUI Charges and Passengers

Prosecutors must prove that the person charged with driving under the influence was actually the one who was in operational control of the vehicle. Passengers in cars, whether they are in the front or back passenger seats, cannot be charged with Driving Under the Influence as they are not considered to have operation control of the car.

In the event there are multiple occupants in a car, prosecutors bear the burden of proving which occupant had control of the vehicle. This can be accomplished through eyewitness testimony, either from police officers or from civilian witnesses who saw which occupant was driving and can identify that person in court.  Prosecutors can also prove which occupant had control of the vehicle through statements or admissions made by occupants to police officers.  Drivers and passengers should be aware that they have a constitutional right to not answer any questions from police officers, and should also know that anything they say could potentially be usable as evidence against them later on in court.

It is also the role of an effective defense attorney to understand when statements made by their client may be inadmissible in court because they were the result of an unconstitutional interrogation. Challenging inadmissible evidence is essential to zealous representation, whether that evidence is physical or verbal.

DUI Driving Enforcement

Police officers frequently patrol parking lots or parking garages near bars or restaurant-heavy areas such as Adams Morgan or U Street looking for people who appear to be driving under the influence or who might even be asleep in their car.

For that reason, when someone is drinking or has been drinking, the safest way to avoid being arrested for a DUI is to avoid getting into the car. If they do get into the front seat of their car, they expose themselves to an arrest and a possible conviction for Driving Under the Influence.

How Often Are People Arrested While Parked?

It is not uncommon for a person to be arrested while seated in a car parked in a legal parking space. That includes people seated in their car while the car is in a parking lot as opposed to a parking space on the side of a road. Whenever a person is in their car and they are in the driver’s seat of that car, they could potentially be arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence.

The prosecutor must produce evidence, usually from a police officer, that a person was controlling a vehicle in the sense that they were considered to be operating it. There are a number of factors that could be used and the police and prosecution will present an officer at the hearing to discuss them.

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