When you be drunk and in your car and not be guilty of DWI?

One of the elements of DWI is "operating" a vehicle while you are intoxicated. It's usually pretty easy to prove you were operating a vehicle, since most arrests involve someone who the police saw driving a vehicle. There are cases though where the police come upon a vehicle that is stationary, and not moving. If you're the only person in the car it's logical to assume you drove the car there; however, that's not enough. The State must still prove you were intoxicated when you drove the car.

If you're intoxicated when the police find, it's usually pretty difficult to prove you weren't intoxicated to when you were driving. Basically, you're saying you stopped the car and started drinking. That's tough to sell to a jury - or a court. However, sometimes it works. The case against Chad William Murray is one of the rare cases where the Court of Appeals found the evidence wasn't sufficient to prove Murray was driving while he was intoxicated. The specific facts were as follows:

  • Murray was asleep on the seat
  • the car was running, but was in park
  • he was pulled off the road
  • he was parked near a private drive, next to a fireworks stand
  • there was no evidence as to how long he had been there

Before you get too exicted, this was a Court of Appeals decsion, and it could still be reviewed - and reversed - by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Until that happens though, it serves as an example of when the evidence isn't sufficient to connect the operation of the vehicle with intoxication.

Walter Reaves
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Criminal Defense Attorney Walter Reaves has been practicing law for over 30 years.
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