Drunk Driving – Without Driving

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on July 28th, 2008

I’ve posted in the past about the ludicrous extent law enforcement and the courts will go to get drunk driving convictions — even where the accused was not driving.  See, for example, Parking Under the Influence and Pulling Over and Sleeping It Off: Still a DUI?.

But occasionally there is a ray of light from some state supreme court willing to apply minimal common sense and a modicum of fairness by admitting that drunk driving (duh!) requires driving…

Arizona Appeals Court Says DUI Charge Requires Driving

Arizona Appeals Court rejects drunk driving conviction of a man who was not driving.

Tucson, AZ. July 25  -  Recent court decisions across the country have upheld stiff sentences against those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI), even when those individuals were either not in an automobile, or not driving at all. A New Jersey appellate court ruled last year, for example, that a man who tried to sleep off a night’s drinking in his truck should pay $4000 in DUI fines. A three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals turned the other direction on Wednesday. It concluded that drivers should be encouraged, not discouraged, to pull over when impaired.

The court’s ruling came in the case of Vincent Zaragoza who on April 29, 2006 went and sat in his car with the key in the ignition while drunk. Tuscon Police Officer Daniel Barry happened to be watching as Zaragoza stumbled into the vehicle. Barry did not wait to see if Zaragoza might make an attempt to start the car. Instead, he immediately put the man — whose blood alcohol reading was an estimated .357 — under arrest.

Zaragoza explained his actions that night in court testimony. He said that he had just been thrown out of an apartment after an argument with his girlfriend. He went to his car to sleep and only put the key in the ignition to turn on the radio and lower the window. A Pima County judge instructed a jury to convict Zaragoza if they believed he had "physical control" of the vehicle and his "potential use" of it could have been dangerous. Zaragoza was then found guilty of driving under the influence and jailed for four months and was sentenced to an additional five years of probation. The appeals court reversed this lower court decision on the grounds that the judge’s instructions used a flawed understanding of Arizona law to mislead the jury.

"The statute criminalizes only ‘actual’ control — not ‘potential’ use," Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom wrote for the unanimous panel. "Indeed, many impaired adults have ready access to a vehicle, and therefore the potential use of one, but retain the sound judgment not to drive."

(Thanks to Andre)

  • koivisto

    Thank goodness there are still some rational thinkers out there. There is still the fight for all those people who got railroaded though.

  • n7uqa91

    Just you wait boys and girls, soon the police will give you a DUI for sitting at home and having a drink or two while watching TV. Because we all know they’ll claim you had the “potential” to drive your car somewhere. And people wonder why I have such resentment and distrust in cops and our whole “prove your innocence” legal system.

  • joe

    That a jury would be foolish enough to convict an individual sleeping in his car is mindless. Will the next step be to convict drunken individuals who are near a car?

  • standup

    Joe, yes…

  • standup

    If your car is locked,in your garage, which is also locked and you have the keys I guess it’s fair to say that you have “control” of the car. Or, the car is under YOUR control. I’m sure MADD is working on the wording of the new law even now.

  • RichardAlan

    Very interesting,

    It makes me wonder, do these DUI lawmakers actually think that because they are lawyers that “they” are somehow smarter or more intelligent then the “sheeple”??

    …or do these DUI Lawmakers just make up random, non sensical, ill logical dui laws because they, themselves lack the knowledge and wisdom that is needed to create “responsible dui laws for the United States of America.

    I’m embarrassed for the United States, and embarrassed that MADD exists here, I’m embarrassed for the lack of knowledge and wisdom our “so called Lawmakers” just simply share with us everyday….

    Based on my life experience I know for a fact I have more knowledge and wisdom then some of these lawyers creating these bogus laws.

    What happens to an honest American, who’s drives his sleeper van to a party, a bar, or event, enjoys “legal” adult beverages gets a little tipsy goes to his “SLEEPER” van to sleep in it, but instead is arrested for DUI… ?

  • standup

    What happens ? Well, for one thing he/she winds up here,with us !

  • daxter

    i just got convicted of dwi when i left a restaurant to go to my car and retrieve my debit card to pay for a meal.  my son and a woman, who was gonna drive was with me.  i started the car to warm it up for them and charge my sons ipad, and before i could exit the car to go back in, an off duty cop walked up and detained me to call his on duty partner.  trial judge found me guilty, and a jury took less then 20 minutes to find me guilty thanks to the DA who insisted i was lying about everything.  watch out people!!!!!!