After a night of drinking, you may think it is a good idea to avoid drunk driving by sleeping it off in your car for a few hours. Unfortunately, you can still be arrested for a DUI in Ohio for doing such a thing.
But with the help of an experienced DUI attorney by your side, you may have an opportunity to either get your entire case dismissed or your charges reduced significantly. Developing an effective defense strategy is based on the circumstances surrounding the arrest.
Is it Illegal to Sleep in Your Car in Ohio?
Before we delve into the specifics of car sleeping as they pertain to DUI arrests, it’s important to know what the law says regarding the legality of sleeping in one’s car.
In Ohio, like many other states, the laws pertaining to sleeping in your car vary depending on where the vehicle is parked. If the car is parked on private property with the property owner’s consent, then sleeping in the vehicle is generally legal.
In some cases, a law enforcement officer may approach a person sleeping in a car out of concern for the individual’s well-being or safety. If the officer believes that the person is homeless or in need of assistance, they may refer them to local services that can provide help.
Can You Get a DUI for Sleeping in Your Car in Ohio?
DUI laws in Ohio prohibit the “operation” of a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Ohio Revised Code Section 4511.01 (HHH) defines “operation” as “to cause or have caused movement of a vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley.” They do not need to observe a suspected drunk motorist driving the vehicle; rather, the officer can use circumstantial evidence to establish the operation of the vehicle.
Circumstantial evidence that may prove a DUI suspect was driving includes the following:
- The engine is running, or the hood is still warm
- Tires tracks that are still warm
- The keys are in the ignition
- The suspect is sleeping in the driver’s seat
- The vehicle is pulled over to the side of the road or highway
- The vehicle is damaged and next to the scene of an accident
So if you fall asleep in the driver’s seat with the engine on to turn on the heater or radio, even if you didn’t go anywhere, there is a possibility that you may be arrested for a DUI. In order to successfully avoid a conviction, you must make it difficult for police officers and prosecutors to prove you were operating the vehicle. You could do so by sleeping in the backseat, storing the keys in the glove compartment or trunk (i.e. someone not immediately accessible to you), leaving the engine off, and parking in a legal spot.
Can You Get a DUI for Sleeping in the Passenger’s Seat?
A concern that often arises is whether an individual can be charged with a DUI for sleeping in the passenger’s seat of a vehicle. In Ohio, the law generally focuses on whether an individual has “physical control” over the vehicle, not solely on whether they are occupying the driver’s seat.
Under Ohio law, having physical control of a vehicle means being in the driver’s position of the front seat of a vehicle and having possession of the vehicle’s ignition key or other ignition device. While this definition primarily targets those in the driver’s seat, there can be circumstances where a person in the passenger’s seat might still be considered in physical control.
If the keys are within reach and there is evidence that the individual in the passenger’s seat recently operated the vehicle while under the influence, there might be grounds for a DUI investigation. However, merely sleeping in the passenger’s seat with no access to the keys and no intent to operate the vehicle typically does not meet the criteria for physical control under Ohio’s DUI laws.
Law enforcement officers may use their discretion in assessing the situation. If an officer suspects that the individual in the passenger’s seat was driving under the influence before moving to the passenger’s seat to sleep, an investigation may ensue.
How a Lawyer Can Help You Defend a DUI Charge for Sleeping in Your Car
Facing a DUI charge for sleeping in your car can be a daunting and complex legal issue. The assistance of an experienced attorney can be invaluable in navigating the intricacies of Ohio law and building a robust defense. Here’s how a lawyer can help:
We Understand Ohio Laws and Regulations
DUI laws vary not only by state but can also differ across municipalities within Ohio. An experienced DUI lawyer will have an in-depth understanding of the specific laws and regulations that apply to your case and can interpret how those laws might apply to the unique circumstances of sleeping in your car.
We Can Evaluate the Evidence
A lawyer will thoroughly evaluate all evidence, including police reports, breathalyzer results, witness statements, and any other relevant information. They will look for inconsistencies or procedural errors that might provide grounds to challenge the charge.
We Will Carefully Craft a Strategic Defense
Based on the evidence and the specific situation, an attorney can craft a tailored defense strategy. This might include arguing that you didn’t have physical control of the vehicle, challenging the validity of sobriety tests, or questioning the legality of the stop or arrest.
We Will Negotiate and Advocate for Your Interests
If appropriate, your attorney may negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charges or penalties, such as seeking a plea deal to a lesser offense or advocating for alternative sentencing options like rehabilitation programs. Should your case go to trial, a skilled DUI lawyer will present your defense in court, cross-examine witnesses, and argue on your behalf to achieve the best possible outcome.
We Will Guide You Through the Legal Process
The legal process of a DUI charge can be confusing and stressful. Your attorney will guide you through each step, keeping you informed and providing support, making the process as smooth as possible.
Contact an Experienced Ohio DUI Defense Attorney
At Patituce & Associates, we recommend that you avoid being in this situation by either getting a ride from a designated driver or requesting a ride through Uber or Lyft. If an officer cannot arrest you for DUI, he or she may still charge you with physical control and possibly impound your vehicle.