A DWI without driving? Yes, this is entirely possible in Minnesota, thanks to the way the state’s DWI law is worded.
According to state statute 169A, you can be arrested for a DWI if you are determined to be in “physical control” of a vehicle. The important part to understand is that state law views “physical control” more broadly than simply being behind the wheel, or even being inside the vehicle.
Physical Control In Minnesota
You’re regarded by the law as being in physical control of a vehicle if you are near the vehicle with the keys in it and the engine running. State law has left this term somewhat vague, but repeated rulings by state courts have established that things like sleeping in a vehicle or even standing up to 20 feet away from it can be considered forms of physical control.
Long story short — if you’re inside the vehicle and legally intoxicated, you’re not safe under any circumstances, even if it’s parked. If you’re outside the vehicle while it’s running, and you’re within 20 feet, you may also be in trouble.
Legal Intoxication Limits
In Minnesota, you are legally intoxicated if you have a blood alcohol level of .08 or more. If you’re in any type of commercial vehicle, that limit drops to .04 or more.
You are also considered intoxicated if any amount of a Schedule I or II substance is present in your bloodstream. This list of substances includes hallucinogens, sedatives, most opioids (even those for which you have a legal prescription), marijuana, cocaine and amphetamines.
What Happens If You Are Arrested?
You are subject to the same DWI penalties as if you were pulled over, even if the vehicle was not actually in operation at the time. You are also still required to take a breathalyzer test if the officer requests it, and if you refuse you are automatically considered guilty of a DWI. If you are unconscious in a vehicle, the law considers there to be implied consent on your part to a chemical test.
Your license can be withdrawn immediately, subject to the same terms that govern any other DWI. That means that the time of the suspension will depend on whether you have any prior DWIs. It is also possible for the vehicle to be impounded and the license plates seized, depending on the circumstances.
The Shortcomings Of The Law
Obviously, there is some intent to actually protect people behind the “physical control” aspect of the law. An inebriated driver who passed out in their car might wake up and decide to drive. It also grants police some leeway to arrest someone who is about to drive and jumps out of the car just prior to their arrival.
It also sets up some potentially unfair situations for people, however. For example, if you attended a party at a friends house, and decided it was safer to “sleep it off” in your vehicle on their property than to try to drive. Even though you had no intention of operating the vehicle, you might find yourself slapped with a DWI anyway. You could also potentially get busted while starting a vehicle to warm it up while waiting for someone else to drive you home.
Now, here’s the good news if you happen to fall into one of these predicaments. Since the concept of physical control isn’t written in stone in the state statutes, it’s up to the discretion of a court with some backing from previous rulings in similar circumstances in many cases. That means that a good attorney can argue on your behalf to demonstrate that you did not operate the vehicle and did not intend to.
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