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DC DUI Definition of Driving

Even though DUI stands for Driving Under the Influence, a person does not have to be driving their car to be convicted of DUI. In fact, a person can be arrested and convicted of Driving Under the Influence even if they are in the front seat of their car with keys in the ignition or if they are asleep in the front seat of their car with the radio on. In these situations, they can be charged with Driving Under the Influence in exactly the same way as someone who had the engine on and the car in motion. Therefore, if you have been charged with a DUI, even if your car was not actually running, you should still seek counsel from a DC DUI lawyer immediately to discuss your case and begin building a defense.

Definition of Driving in DC DUI Cases

In the context of DC DUI cases, the term driving in “Driving Under the Influence” does not necessarily mean a person turned on the ignition of their car, put the car into drive, and pressed on the gas pedal. Driving means that a person has physical or operational control of the vehicle.

There is no specific definition for exactly what is meant by physical operational control of a vehicle. Operational control is understood as the person has the ability to put the car into motion with minimal effort. If a person is seated in the driver’s seat of a vehicle with the key in the ignition, the person would be considered in operational control of the vehicle.

If a person is asleep in the car and has the ignition on or has the keys in the ignition, the person is in operational control of the vehicle. Even if the engine or battery is not turned on, that person can still be in operational control of the vehicle.

The best way to avoid being considered in operational control of the vehicle is to not get into the car in the first place. If someone needs to get into their car, the best thing to do so that there is no question as to whether they are in operational control of their vehicle is to not sit in the driver’s seat of the vehicle.

Frequency of Arrests

It is not uncommon for a person to be arrested while seated in a car parked in a legal parking space. This can include people who are seated in their car while the car is in a parking lot as opposed to a parking space on a road. Police officers frequently patrol parking lots or parking garages that are near bars or located in bar or restaurant heavy areas including H Street, U Street or Adams Morgan. The officers are looking for people who are asleep in their cars or who might be walking to their car.

For this reason, when someone has been drinking, the safest way to avoid a DUI arrest is to not get into their car. If they do get into the car, they should not sit in the driver’s seat of the car. This is the safest way to prevent someone from being arrested for a DUI.

Proof of Operational Control

When the prosecution presents their case of Driving Under the Influence, they do not need to prove that the person was actually driving the car. They need to prove that the person was in operational control of the vehicle and while they were in operational control of the vehicle they were under the influence of drugs, alcohol, medication, or some combination thereof. This means the police do not necessarily need to see a person in their car if they have other evidence that demonstrates the person was in operational control of the vehicle and at that time were under the influence of alcohol.

If the police do not see a person driving the car, an effective DUI defense lawyer can make arrangements to challenge the government’s contention that the person was in physical control of the vehicle. For example, if a person is fast asleep in the driver’s seat of the car with keys on the passenger seat and the car’s engine off, the defense attorney can make an argument that his client was not in operational control of the vehicle and had no ability to be able to put the car into motion because the defendant was asleep and had no ability to actually turn the car on.

Can a Passenger Be Charged With DUI?

Prosecutors must prove that the person they charge with Driving Under the Influence is the one who is in operational control of the vehicle. If they cannot provide that proof, the defendant’s lawyer can make arguments for an acquittal at trial or for complete dismissal of the charges.

If there are multiple people in the car, but at the time the police officer approached the car everyone is outside of the vehicle and the police officers cannot establish through evidence which person was the one driving then the police officer will not make an arrest. This is why it is always important for people to remember they have the constitutional right to not answer questions when asked by police officers.

Any statements you make can potentially be used as evidence. Any admissions as to who was driving the car or admissions by the person who was arrested saying they were driving the car can be used as evidence. Everyone should know it is their constitutional rights to remain silent and decline to answer questions.

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