Can You Get A DUI For Sleeping In Your Car?

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

Barnes & Fersten Law Firm

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Man sleeping in his car

Imagine this: you’ve had a few too many drinks during a night out with friends, and you make the responsible decision not to drive home. Instead, you decide to sleep in your car, thinking it’s a safe way to avoid a DUI. To your surprise, you wake up to a knock on your window from a police officer. Could you really be charged with a DUI for simply sleeping in your car? The answer is more complex than you might think.

Understanding DUIs and Physical Control in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the law doesn’t only consider whether you were driving while impaired but also whether you were in “physical control” of the vehicle. This means that, yes, you can be convicted of a DUI for sleeping in your car, even if the keys are not in the ignition or you’re in the backseat.

However, the concept of physical control is somewhat ambiguous, and the Tennessee Supreme Court has made rulings that expand its definition. For example, a person was found to be in physical control of a vehicle that was out of gas, simply because they were close enough to a gas station to walk there and refuel.

The Court's Considerations: Factors that Determine Physical Control

The court looks at a variety of factors to determine whether an individual is in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence. Understanding these factors and how they apply to your specific situation is crucial for building a strong defense.

  • The location of the keys: If the keys are in the ignition or within easy reach, the court may view this as evidence of physical control. On the other hand, if the keys are stored away from the driver or hidden, it may indicate a lower likelihood of physical control.
  • The position of the driver or passenger in the vehicle: Where you were seated or positioned in the car can play a role in the court’s decision. For example, if you were found in the driver’s seat, this may suggest a higher likelihood of physical control.
  • The proximity of the vehicle to a roadway: If your car is parked on the side of the road or in a location where it could easily be driven, the court may be more likely to view you as having physical control.
  • The location of the vehicle: The court may take into account whether the vehicle is in a parking lot, a designated parking area, or on private property. If the vehicle is parked in a location where it would be less likely to be driven or is farther from potential hazards, the court might view the situation as having a lower likelihood of physical control.
  • Presence of passengers: If there are passengers in the vehicle, the court may consider their role in the situation. If a sober passenger is present, it might be argued that the impaired individual was not in control of the vehicle.

These factors can be critical in determining whether an individual was in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence. By understanding how these factors apply to your case, you can work with your attorney to develop a solid defense strategy.

DUI Prevention Tips: Staying Safe and Avoiding Legal Trouble

To prevent finding yourself in a situation where you could be charged with a DUI, it’s essential to have a plan in place before you go out. Here are some tips for staying safe and avoiding legal trouble:

  • Designate a sober driver before going out: Before starting your night, decide who in your group will remain sober and be responsible for driving everyone home. Ensure that this person is committed to staying alcohol-free throughout the evening.
  • Use rideshare services like Uber or Lyft to get home safely: These services are readily available in most areas and provide a convenient and affordable alternative to driving under the influence. Even in smaller towns or rural areas, it’s worth checking for available rideshare options.
  • Utilize public transportation when possible: Taking the bus, train, or subway can help you avoid the risk of a DUI charge and ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road. Familiarize yourself with the local public transportation options and schedules to make using these services easier.
  • Plan to stay at a friend’s house or book a nearby hotel if you know you’ll be drinking: Planning ahead can save you from making a dangerous decision to drive while impaired. If you’re attending a gathering where alcohol will be served, arrange to stay with a friend nearby or book a hotel room within walking distance.
  • Know the signs of impairment and be mindful of your behavior: Be aware of the physical and mental signs of intoxication, such as slurred speech, loss of coordination, or impaired judgment. If you notice any of these signs in yourself or others, it’s time to stop drinking and find a safe way home.

The best way to avoid a DUI is to plan ahead and make responsible decisions when it comes to alcohol consumption and transportation. By taking these precautions, you can avoid the risk of a DUI charge and ensure your safety and the safety of others on the road.

Challenging DUI Charges: Common Defense Strategies for Sleeping in Your Car

If you are facing a DUI charge for sleeping in your car, experienced DUI attorneys may use a variety of defense strategies to challenge the prosecution’s claims. Below, we provide more detail on common defenses that can be used in these cases:

  • Argue that you did not have the intent to drive while intoxicated: Your attorney can present evidence or testimony to show that you chose to sleep in your car specifically to avoid driving while impaired. This might include witness accounts, text messages or phone call records, or evidence of your plans for alternate transportation.
  • Demonstrate that the vehicle was inoperable or not in a position to be driven: If the vehicle was not functional, out of gas, or otherwise unable to be driven, your attorney may argue that you could not have exercised physical control over it. This defense strategy may include presenting photographs of the vehicle’s condition, mechanic reports, or fuel purchase receipts to prove your point.
  • Present evidence that your level of intoxication did not meet the legal threshold for a DUI: Blood alcohol content (BAC) test results or other evidence can be used to show that you were not legally intoxicated at the time of the incident. Your attorney may also challenge the validity of the BAC testing process, the accuracy of the testing equipment, or the qualifications of the person who administered the test.
  • Question the legality of the police stop or arrest: Your attorney may argue that the police did not have a valid reason to stop you or initiate contact while you were sleeping in your car. If the police violated your rights during the stop or arrest, any evidence gathered during that time could potentially be suppressed.
  • Challenge the prosecution’s interpretation of “physical control”: Since the definition of physical control can be somewhat ambiguous, your attorney may argue that the prosecution’s interpretation is too broad or not applicable in your specific case. By presenting a strong counter-argument, your attorney can challenge the notion that you were in physical control of the vehicle while asleep.

Each of these defense strategies can be tailored to your unique situation and can help challenge the prosecution’s claims. By working closely with a skilled DUI attorney, you can navigate the complexities of the legal system and work towards a more favorable outcome in your case.

How Barnes & Fersten Can Help

A DUI conviction can bring hefty fines, license suspension, and even jail time. If you’re facing a DUI charge for sleeping in your car, it’s essential to have a seasoned legal team in your corner. Our attorneys will meticulously analyze your case details, challenge the prosecution’s evidence, and work relentlessly to construct a robust defense strategy tailored to your unique circumstances. Contact Barnes & Fersten today for a free, no-obligation consultation and let us help you navigate the complexities of your DUI case.

Attorney At Law, Managing Partner

Brandon D. Fersten is an esteemed Knoxville attorney practicing DUIcriminal defense, and juvenile law. Known for his empathetic approach and commitment to his clients, he brings a record of favorable case outcomes including dismissals and not guilty verdicts at jury trials resulting in Brandon being recognized as one of the “Top 40 Under 40” in Criminal Defense, U.S. News’ Best Lawyers: “Ones to Watch,” and Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars”. Brandon’s professional accolades, combined with his passion for justice, position him as a reliable criminal defense advocate in the East Tennessee legal landscape.