No one wants to be arrested and charged with DUI. It’s a scary and unpleasant experience.
But what if you weren’t actually driving at the time? What if the car was up on blocks? What if the motor was running but the car was parked?
Situations like those make make it much harder for prosecutors to prove DUI. That’s where something called “actual physical control” becomes an important factor.
What is actual physical control, and can it help your case? Keep reading to learn more.
What is Actual Physical Control?
As the name implies, Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol, or DUI, criminalizes the act of driving of a vehicle while intoxicated. However, almost all states have included something called being “in actual physical control” of a vehicle while under the influence.
In other words, before you can be convicted of DUI, the state must prove you were in actual physical control of the vehicle.
The “actual physical control” part of the law protects people who weren’t actually driving when they were arrested. Situations where there is a car is crashed and incapable of moving, or someone is passed out behind the wheel are the most common examples.
Remember, even if you did have actual physical control, the prosecution still needs to prove you were under the influence.
When Does Someone Have Actual Physical Control?
This area of DUI law is always changing. In a recent Montana DUI case, our Supreme Court recently limited what a jury can consider “actual physical control.”
These limitations offer accused people more options for defending themselves in court.
Here’s what the Montana Supreme Court said:
[O]ne could have “actual physical control” while merely parking or standing still so long as one was keeping the car in restraint or in position to regulate its movements. Preventing a car from moving is as much control and dominion as actually putting the car in motion on the highway. Could one exercise any more regulation over a thing, while bodily present, than prevention of movement or curbing movement. As long as one were physically or bodily able to assert dominion, in the sense of movement, then he has as much control over an object as he would if he were actually driving the vehicle.
-State v. Ruona, 133 Mont. at 248–49, 321 P.2d at 618
In other words, if a person cannot put a vehicle into motion, that person is not in actual physical control of that vehicle.
To hold otherwise would mean that a person in a vehicle up on blocks, with no wheels, could be found guilty of DUI. That would be an absurd result, and state laws should not lead to absurd results if a reasonable interpretation would avoid it.
Can it Help Your Case?
The Montana Supreme Court said that 6 crucial factors should be considered to determine whether someone accused of DUI had actual physical control:
- Where in the vehicle the defendant was located
- Whether the ignition key was in the vehicle, and where the key was located
- Whether the engine was running or not
- Where the vehicle was parked and how it got there
- Whether the vehicle was disabled (broken down, mechanically inoperable, stuck, or otherwise immovable)
- How easily the defendant could have cured the vehicle’s disability
These factors can help give a great DUI defense attorney more ammunition to defend your rights in court. Some people who have been arrested for DUI don’t meet the definition of actual physical control. A great DUI attorney can make that argument in court.
Is your DUI defense attorney aware of this significant change in the law? If not, it may be time to look for another attorney.
Contact the Judnich Law Office for a free consultation to discuss your case and your rights today.
Photos: Scott Swigart on Flickr, DES Daughter on Flickr
Marty is a former criminal prosecutor in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office and now uses that experience to defend those accused of crimes. A University of Montana School of Law graduate, Marty focuses his practice on personal injury and criminal defense and is a premier DUI defense attorney. He is also well versed in the insurance claims industry and has negotiated significant settlements with nearly every major insurance company.