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How can I get a DWI for Sleeping in a Parked Car?

Dec. 30, 2020


If you have ever gone out with friends and had too much to drink to drive home, then you probably considered sleeping it off in your car. You pull over into a parking lot, or better yet you never leave the parking lot of the bar you were at and instead turn your car's heater on, lean back in your seat and go to sleep.

While sleeping it off in your car, you just may have received a visit from your local police department. After explaining to the officer that you had been drinking that night but chose to sleep it off in your car, you are arrested for Driving While Intoxicated. If this has happened to you or a friend, then you're probably wondering how in the world you can be charged for a DWI when you thought you were doing the right thing by not driving?


Under Missouri DWI law, "[a] person commits the crime of 'driving while intoxicated' if he operates a motor vehicle while in an intoxicated or drugged condition." This means you can be found guilty of DWI if you are either driving or operating your car while intoxicated.

There is a distinction between the terms "driving" and "operating" when it comes to a motor vehicle. In its 2003 Cox v. Director of Revenue decision, the Missouri Supreme Court clarified the distinction when it "applied the plain and ordinary meanings of the words 'drive' and 'operates' in [RSMo] section 571.001 so that 'drive' means 'to guide a vehicle along or through' and 'operates' means 'to cause to function usually by direct personal effort: work (~a car).'" (as quoted in State v. Wessel)

Even if you are not driving anywhere, you are guilty of driving while intoxicated if you both operate a motor vehicle and you are intoxicated while doing so. In order to prove that you are operating a vehicle, all the prosecution needs to do is put forth sufficient evidence to show that you were in control of the car and you caused it to function, i.e., you caused the engine to run.

Once the key is in the ignition, and the engine is running, an officer may have probable cause to believe that the person sitting behind the steering wheel is operating the vehicle. Stewart v. Director of Revenue, 702 S.W.2d 472, 475-76 (Mo. banc 1986)

Sitting in the driver's seat of your car, while the engine is running is sufficient evidence to show you were 'operating a motor vehicle'. If you also have alcohol in your system, then the prosecutor will have enough to prove you were technically in violation of the law.


Even if this fact situation sounds identical to yours, you still have a chance to win your DWI case at trial. Don't simply plead guilty without first seeking the advice of a qualified, experienced, and trusted DWI attorney like Anthony S. Bretz. Mr. Bretz will explain your options to you in a clear manner and help you prepare to win at trial. If you have recently been arrested for DWI, call now!! Don't make another mistake. The sooner you start protecting your rights the better your outcome will be.