An essential element for a DUI conviction in Kentucky according to the Kentucky DUI statute, KRS 189A.010 (1), requires that “a person shall not operate or be in physical control of a motor vehicle anywhere in this state.” A person who is not in control of a motor vehicle simply cannot be guilty of a DUI.
So for example, if an officer observes a properly parked vehicle with an intoxicated person sitting behind the wheel, with the keys in the ignition and the motor running, and the person inside sitting there just smoking and texting on their cell phone, is that behavior sufficient to meet the proof of operation to support a DUI arrest? What if the intoxicated person was asleep at the time that the officer arrived? The simple answer to both questions is it depends on the facts and whether the prosecutor can prove the intoxicated person was operating or in control of the vehicle.
In order to prove operation or control of the vehicle to support a DUI arrest and subsequent conviction, the prosecutor has the burden of proving the following four factors:
- Whether or not the person in the vehicle was asleep or awake;
- Whether or not the motor is running;
- Location of the vehicle and all the circumstances bearing on how the vehicle arrived at that location; and
- The intent of the person behind the wheel.
The first factor, whether a person is asleep or awake, is easily observed by the officer. But by itself it is not sufficient to support a DUI arrest. Courts have held that a sleeping person is not in operation of a vehicle.
The second factor may be more difficult since determining whether or not a gasoline or diesel engine is running is easy but with the introduction of hybrid and electric vehicles on the roadways in recent years it does make it more difficult to determine whether or not an electric motor is running since they are mostly silent when running and designed to remain off while the vehicle is stopped. However, at least one court has held that merely starting a vehicle’s engine or motor is not an exercise of actual physical control.
The third factor, the location of the vehicle and all the circumstances bearing on how the vehicle arrived at that location, are important in determining operation. For example, when did the driver become intoxicated: before or after parking the vehicle? Was the driver discovered before any new driving could begin?
The fourth factor, the intent of the person behind the wheel, is more difficult to prove and has been the subject of numerous court hearings over the years. Kentucky courts have held that sleeping drivers in properly parked vehicles could not have had any intention to drive under those circumstances. Furthermore, as a court stated, merely being awake in the driver seat of a vehicle with the engine on does not require finding of an intent to drive or it would constitute a separate factor in the determination of whether the person and the vehicle was awake or asleep.
Answering the questions in the example above, a person who is sitting in the driver seat of a properly parked vehicle in which that person can comfortably smoke and text, rather than using the vehicle as a mode of imminent transportation, shows that the person did not intend to drive. In that situation the person is not in operation of the vehicle to support a DUI arrest.
Article by Lexington, Kentucky DUI Lawyer Stephen Isaacs, Isaacs Law Office, 859-252-5757