Can I Get a North Carolina DWI for Sleeping in the Car?

After having a few drinks, one of the most common alternatives to drunk driving is sleeping in the car. Unfortunately, it is actually possible for people to be arrested and charged with DWI in North Carolina without being found driving a vehicle.

According to NC drunk driving law, a person needs to be operating the vehicle to be guilty. An “operator” is defined as “a person in actual physical control of a vehicle which is in motion or which has the engine running.” Though the person may not actually be driving, it would not take much effort to put the car into motion, particularly if the key is in the ignition and the engine is running, thus endangering the lives of others on the road. Previous NC court cases have found that when defendants are asleep in the driver’s seat of the car with the engine running, that is considered as being in actual physical control of a vehicle.

By contrast, situations may arise where a police officer approaches a vehicle with a person sleeping in the backseat, the keys are not close to the ignition nor within reach of the driver, and the engine is not running. Since there is no circumstantial evidence that can support the law being broken, the argument could be made that the vehicle was not in motion nor was the engine running. In cases like these, there is no way a court would be able to find that the defendant had actual physical control of the vehicle in question.

At Sandman, Finn & Fitzhugh, we advise you to avoid getting into your car entirely if you’ve had too much to drink. Rather, request a ride from an Uber or Lyft driver or contact a designated driver to pick you up. If you find yourself in a vehicle, however, do not put the keys in or near the ignition. Sit in the backseat and leave your keys elsewhere to ensure that you could not operate the car even if you wanted to.

If you have been arrested for a DWI in North Carolina, request a free consultation with our Raleigh criminal defense attorneys today.


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