Since we have blogged recently about DWI cases involving “physical control” and what this means as opposed to driving, I thought it useful to post about another slightly older case involving this notion. In that case, from the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the court addresses once again this issue or notion of DWI when the individual was not driving the motor vehicle, but was in “physical control”.
With regard to these facts, the defendant was found by a patrolling officer in a parked vehicle in a commercial area of town a little before midnight. The Park Rapids Officer approached defendant’s car and noticed the lights were on and that the defendant had just sat down in the driver’s seat. The officer also noticed that the lights were turned off, there were keys in the ignition and there was a female in the front seat of the car. The officer was not able to determine whether the car’s engine was engaged.
The defendant was found to be intoxicated and was later convicted of felony DWI. He was ultimately sentenced to 79 months behind bars. He appealed the convictions, saying that he should not have been convicted given that prosecutors never introduced evidence to prove that he drove, operated or was ever in physical control of the vehicle as required by Minnesota law. The appellant argued that the circumstantial evidence given at trial just as easily supported his claim that the female passenger had been driving the car before they stopped in the parking lot.
The Court of Appeals spent little time worrying over the possibility that the officer was mistaken. The Court pointed out that it was enough to show that the appellant was in physical control of the vehicle while he sat behind the wheel in the parking lot. As the officer said, the keys were in the ignition and this fact alone is enough to sustain his DWI conviction. The Court mentioned that an earlier case held that evidence of a person sleeping in the driver’s seat while the keys were in the center console was enough evidence to show that the driver was in physical control of the vehicle and thus support a conviction of DWI.
The Court said it has been clear in the past that “physical control” should apply to all situations where drivers can, without too much difficult, start a car and “become a source of danger to the operator, to others, or to property.” The Court of Appeals held that the fact that appellant was in the driver’s seat and the keys were in the ignition would be enough to prove that he was in physical control of the car, satisfying the evidentiary requirements of his conviction.
As stated before, the issue of physical control can be a complicated concept for some to grasp. I just litigated a physical control case which resulted in a dismissal of all the defendant’s criminal charges. Each case involving physical control is different with its own set of facts. The attorney handling such a matter must carefully review his or her case and determine the best approach under the current case law in Minnesota.