A Sonoma man was found unconscious in his parked, running car by Petaluma police. Officers arrested the man, who had recently been convicted of a DUI, on suspicion of another DUI.
Joel Barrera, 34, was found asleep in his vehicle on May 22nd by Petaluma police officers. Although the car was parked in the parking lot of a local park, the engine was running. After waking Barrera, officers determined that he was under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol content of almost twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.
What’s more, officers found a semi-automatic handgun and a loaded magazine in his car and discovered that Barrera was already on probation for a DUI conviction out of Marin County for which his license was currently suspended.
Barrera was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, carrying a concealed gun in a vehicle, driving on a suspended license, and violating probation.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens to Barrera. But until then, you might be wondering how it is that someone can even be arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence if they weren’t even driving.
If a person is found sleeping in their car, as was the case with Barrera, it is likely that any arresting officer did not see the person drive. Therefore, there may not be any direct evidence for a prosecutor to prove that a person drove.
Just because law enforcement does not actually see a person drive under the influence doesn’t mean they can’t be found guilty of driving under the influence. A prosecutor can use circumstantial evidence to prove that a person drove to where they were found while under the influence and then fell asleep in their car.
For example, if an intoxicated person is sleeping in their vehicle in the middle of the road or at the scene of a collision (believe me, it happens more often than you would think), then the prosecutor can raise those facts to create the inference that the person had driven to those locations. In other words, the prosecutor may argue that, based on the surrounding circumstances, it is reasonable to infer that the defendant drove to the location where they were found even though there is no direct evidence that they drove there.
On the other hand, if those facts do not exist that would create the inference that the defendant drove then the prosecutor is going to have difficult time proving that the person actually drove the vehicle while being under the influence. This scenario presents itself from time to time as well. But the person may still be charged with another crime such as drunk in public.
In the 1966 case of People v. Belanger, officers found the intoxicated defendant asleep in his vehicle which was located in a parking lot. Although the facts in that case were not enough to create the inference that the defendant had driven to the location while under the influence because he could have driven there sober, drank, and then fell asleep, the officers did arrest the defendant for drunk in public.
The Court concluded that, in order to prevent the defendant from waking up and then drive away drunk, they needed to arrest him on suspicion of being drunk in public.
Needless to say, no person should be in a vehicle when they’re intoxicated whether they’ve driven or not. A prosecutor may still be able to successfully argue the person drove when, in fact, they didn’t. Furthermore, if a prosecutor cannot prove that the person drove, they may still be able to secure a conviction for some other crime such as drunk in public.