Can You Be Charged with DWI for Sleeping in Your Parked Car?

man sleeping in parked vehicle

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After drinking alcohol at a bar, nightclub, or restaurant, many people decide to spend the night in their vehicle. Although sleeping it off in your car is a better alternative to driving while intoxicated, you may still be charged with DWI for sleeping in your parked vehicle in Texas.

If you were arrested for DWI while sleeping off your intoxication in your parked vehicle, do not hesitate to contact a Florence criminal defense attorney to discuss your defense options.

Can You Be Arrested for DWI for Sleeping in Your Vehicle?

The short answer is, “Yes, you can still be charged with driving while intoxicated for sleeping in your car after a night of drinking.” A person may be considered “operating” their car and charged with DWI when they sleep in their parked car while intoxicated.

However, whether or not you were “operating” your car when sleeping depends on the many circumstances of your case. While Texas Penal Code defines the terms “intoxication” and “motor vehicle,” it does not explain what it means to be “operating” a motor vehicle.

Under Texas Penal Code § 49.04, a person has committed the offense of “driving while intoxicated” if they are operating a motor vehicle in a public place while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs.

Because Texas Penal Code does not expressly define what it means to be operating a motor vehicle, it is up to Texas courts to interpret the law. According to case law involving individuals charged with DWI in their parked cars, Texas courts have ruled that “operating” a motor vehicle is not limited to driving the vehicle when the car is in motion.

For the purposes of deciding whether or not an individual can be charged with DWI for “operating” their vehicle, it must be determined by the totality of the circumstances whether the individual did anything to affect the functioning of the vehicle that would enable them to use it and drive.

One of the examples of enabling a motor vehicle to use for driving is having the keys in the ignition, even if the motor vehicle is parked and the driver is sleeping when approached by law enforcement officers.

Examples of ‘Operating’ a Motor Vehicle That is Parked

The following behaviors could indicate that you were “operating” your car or otherwise intended to drive while intoxicated even when the vehicle is parked:

  • Sitting or sleeping in the driver’s seat

  • Sitting or sleeping with the seatbelt on

  • Sitting or sleeping with the keys in the ignition, even if you did this to turn on the heater

  • Listening to the radio in your motor vehicle

If you are accused of DWI for sleeping or sitting in your parked vehicle, it can be difficult to prove that you had no intention to drive your car. For this reason, it is advisable to contact a skilled criminal defense attorney to evaluate your particular situation and determine the best defense strategy to fight the charges.

How to Avoid DWI Charges for Sleeping/Sitting in a Parked Car

You can avoid DWI charges for sleeping or sitting in your parked car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs as long as the law enforcement officer does not have reasonable suspicion that you intended to operate your motor vehicle while impaired.

If you had too much drink and want to sleep or sit in your parked car until you regain your normal faculties to drive again, take the following precautions to avoid DWI charges:

  • Do not stop your car where you are not allowed to stop or in the middle of the road. The best place to sleep or sit in your parked car to avoid getting a DWI is a parking lot, especially if this is the parking lot of the establishment where you consumed alcohol.

  • Stay where you are. If you parked your car far away from the establishment where you got drunk, the law enforcement officer might suspect that you were driving to get to the spot where you parked your car. For this reason, it is best to stay in the parking lot of the bar, nightclub, or restaurant where you consumed alcohol.

  • Turn your lights off. If you are sitting in your parked vehicle in a parking lot, leaving your lights on may suggest that you have been driving or intend to drive.

  • Keep your keys out of the ignition. One of the most common reasons people get charged with DWI for sleeping or sitting in a parked car is when their keys are in the ignition. The best thing you can do to avoid DWI charges is to turn your car off and put the keys out of reach (e.g., the glove compartment).

  • Sit/sleep in the backseat. As mentioned earlier, if you sit in the driver’s seat while intoxicated, the officer may assume that you intended to drive your car. For this reason, if you want to sleep your intoxication off in your car, sleep in the backseat.

  • Recline your seat when sleeping in the front seat. If you want to sleep in the driver’s or front passenger’s seat, recline your seat all the way. Having your seat reclined will get you the upper hand in proving that you had no intention to drive.

  • Do not admit to driving while intoxicated. Police officers know how to get drives to admit to driving under the influence. For this reason, you should watch carefully what you say to the officer who pulls over and starts asking questions when you are sitting or sleeping in your parked car.

You may still get arrested for DWI no matter what you do when you are in your parked vehicle under the influence of alcohol. That is why it is imperative to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to review the circumstances of your arrest and identify the most suitable defense strategy in your case.

Schedule a free consultation with our Belton criminal defense lawyers at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard today. Call (254) 220-4225 to discuss all available defense strategies in your case.


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