Can I Get a DWI in Texas If I Sleep in My Car?

After a night of heavy drinking, many people choose to sleep in their parked cars as an alternative to driving home, hoping to wake up refreshed and ready to drive after a brief snooze. Unfortunately, there are just as many situations when a police officer notices a sleeping motorist, conducts an investigation, recognizes the smell of alcohol, and proceeds to arrest the individual for committing a DWI.

Can I Get a DWI in a Parked Car?

In many states throughout the U.S., including Texas, if you are under the influence and in a parked vehicle, you may still be charged with a DWI. In Texas, an individual commits a DWI when he or she is operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated.

State law contains definitions for being “intoxicated” and what is a “motor vehicle.” However, doesn't specifically define the word “operating”, leaving it up to the courts to provide a definition. Texas courts have deciphered “operating” in a broad sense regarding drunk driving charges

Essentially, when determining whether there is enough evidence to obtain a DWI conviction, courts will determine a driver “operating” a vehicle when, based on certain circumstances, he or she did something to “affect the functioning of the vehicle in a way that would enable the vehicle’s use.”

Actions to Avoid

Although we do not advise you to snooze off your booze in your parked vehicle, there are several things that everyone should be aware of before getting in a car, or even thinking about driving it. In the eyes of the judge or jury, there are a variety of behaviors which could make it appear like operating a vehicle.

Common examples include:

  • Sleeping in the driver’s seat
  • Sleeping with your seatbelt on
  • Sleeping in your car with the keys
  • Sleeping in your car with the engine running
  • Sleeping in your car with the radio on

Based on the circumstances mentioned above, the jury or judge could conclude that the driver had committed an action that affected the functioning of the car, and was operating the car prior to dozing off. So when deciding if a driver was “operating” a vehicle at the time of the arrest, even minor details can make all the difference.

The following are several precautions to take if happen to fall asleep in your parked car:

  • Sleep in the back seat
  • Recline the seat
  • Turn off the engine and the lights
  • Leave your keys out of the of the ignition
  • Park your car in a legal spot
  • Place your eyes in the trunk or outside the vehicle

Ultimately, the best decision is to request a ride from a ride-sharing service (e.g. Uber, Lyft) or contact a designated driver to take your home. Do not even risk facing the possibility

For more information, schedule a free consultation with our College Station criminal defense attorney at The Law Office of Shane Phelps, P.C. today.

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