When you’ve had too much to drink after a night out, you are in no condition to drive when it comes time to hit the road. Rather than requesting a ride from Uber or Lyft, or having a designated driver pick you up, you opt to sleep in your car. Seems like a reasonable thing to do, right?
Unfortunately, Minnesota law states that you can still get a DWI, even though you are not operating the vehicle. It is not only considered illegal to operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or while over the .08 legal limit, but it also against the law to be in “physical control.” The individual arrested does not even have to possess the subjective intention to drive during the period he or she is still intoxicated.
To be in physical control of a vehicle, according to state laws, means to either initiate movement of the vehicle or to be in close proximity to its operating controls where the person might start without much difficulty. In other words, if you are in the vicinity of the vehicle or its controls, in a position where it would be easy for you to operate the vehicle, then you are considered in control of that vehicle.
In 2007, there was a case (State v. Fleck) where a man was found guilty of DWI after being discovered asleep in his car at his home. The man was found with the driver door wide open, the keys were located in the center console but in the ignition, and police could find no evidence he had recently driven the car. The man was still found guilty of DWI and the conviction has been upheld through numerous appeals—all the way to the Supreme Court.
All of these facts would seem to suggest the man was not engaging in conduct that posed a danger to others, but this decision demonstrates how ambiguous and vague the term “physical control” is construed under Minnesota law. So you should be aware that you can be convicted, even if your keys were out of reach and the vehicle was turned off while asleep.