To the People

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Monday, January 26, 2009

A Crime I Didn't Know About: Drunk Not-Driving

File this under "Shit I'm glad I learned now and not later". Cecil Adams, the guy behind the Straight Dope column, points out something I didn't know about drunk driving laws: You don't have to be driving the car to be convicted.

He mentions it in passing while dismantling a particularly retarded urban myth about how a person can get out of a dui conviction by drinking after the cop has pulled you over:
In one classic early case, State v. Lizotte (1993), police pulled the defendant over for speeding. He seemed drunk when questioned, had an open beer can on his dashboard, and blew BACs of .13 and .14. He was convicted of drunk driving but appealed the verdict, claiming he'd quickly downed the beer after being pulled over to avoid being charged with an open-container violation. Because he'd consumed alcohol after he'd stopped driving, he argued, the Breathalyzer test was invalid.

Nuh-uh, said the appeals court. Its implicit rationale: You're operating a motor vehicle whenever you're in control of it, not just when you’ve got it in motion. (In fact, people have been convicted of drunk driving for sleeping it off in a parked car.) That you claimed to have been stopped when you drank the beer makes no difference; you were still operating the vehicle.

You see what this means. If you're in a jurisdiction that accepts a broad definition of operating a vehicle, chugging a bottle in front of a cop won't help you, even if you're physically outside the car. A court could easily conclude that technically you were still in control.
I'm glad I learned that. The next time I've been out and had a few drinks and I'm not sure if I can make it all the way home, I won't pull over and rest. I'll just keep on driving, secure in the knowledge that even if I fall asleep at the wheel, legally I didn't have a choice.

Happy motoring people!

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