Yes, a DUI sleeping in car situation can happen to you under a not so unique set of circumstances. In fact, if you are drunk and asleep at the wheel of a non moving (even turned off) car you can be liable!
The podcast episode was inspired by the recent Illinois court decision, People v. Morris, 2014 IL App (1st) 1130152 (07/23/2014). However, there is also a decision out of South Dakota where a man was acquitted on appeal for DUI. This guy was drunk and leaned into his truck and accidently bumped a gear level.
The South Dakota case also sounds interesting and can be found in this Argus Leader article.
The Code in Illinois
The actual Illinois Criminal Code on the matter says that an individual:
shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle within this State while under the influence of alcohol.
In Illinois, the presence of four factors may lead to a DUI conviction for falling asleep behind the wheel while drunk.
The specific question a court is answering when looking at these factors is whether the sleepy head was in actual physical control of the car?
Here are the factors:
- Possessed of the ignition key
- Physical capability to operate the vehicle
- Sitting in the driver’s seat, and
- Alone in the car with the doors locked.
The issue of actual physical control is determined on a case-by-case basis. Other factors not listed may influence a court. The factors themselves only provide a guideline to determine whether the defendant had actual physical control of the vehicle.
Ignorance of the Law
A person will not get far in court by arguing to the court that they never knew it DUI was possible just for falling asleep behind the wheel.
This is when the court repeats that most often said (but never believed) phrase:
Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
I like to say, “Too Bad, So Sad.”
Why is this the law?
The main reason the law is this way is to prevent an individual from waking up in an inebriated state and simply driving away.
Normal driving DUI’s are a preventative measure. The State criminalized behavior that leads to death and destruction. It is the death and destruction part that they are actually trying to prevent.
By criminalizing the reckless behaviour of driving while under the influence, the State is indirectly preventing the consequences of that behaviour. So, wiping out any kind of actual physical control of a car by a drunk person creates an extra level of protection.
The Case Law Says
Additionally, it is well settled that “a person need not drive to be in actual physical control of a vehicle, nor is the person’s intent to put the car in motion relevant to the determination of actual physical control.”
A person who simply claims that they were not in actual physical control because they were unconscious is not seeing the case clearly. In fact, the actual intention of the sleepy head is not relevant at all.
Snapshot in Time Will Convict
It will do nothing for the person to try to convince the judge or the jury that he had no actual intention to drive away while drunk. The law says it does not care. If the factors around a case lead to “actual physical control” at any snapshot in time before the person wakes up, guilt is instantly established. It doesn’t matter what the person actually intended.
The idea here is that it is way to easy for a person to change their mind. A person asleep behind the wheel who has no actual intent to drive could do it anyways. Remember, they are drunk, not thinking clearly, and prone to reflexive reactions.
There is also the strong circumstantial fact that a person found by police behind the wheel probably drove the car to the location it was found. That is a DUI. Often, it is too difficult to make this finding beyond a reasonable doubt, so the law doesn’t require it.
Once a court determines that a drunk person sleeping in a car is in actual physical control guilt is established and the law does not need to look at anything that happened before that instant. Nor does the court need concern itself with what could have happened after that instinct.