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Can Sleeping Driver be Convicted of Drunk Driving in Michigan?

Jan 23rd, 2018 OWI Can Sleeping Driver be Convicted of Drunk Driving in Michigan?

Yes, a sleeping driving can be convicted of drunk driving in Michigan provided there is enough circumstantial evidence to establish operation.  In a recent Michigan case[i] affirming a drunk driving conviction involving a sleeping driving the court inferred that the driver operated his vehicle because did not live on the road he admitted being on and did not start his evening there.

However, on appeal, the driver argued that he was not operating the vehicle because the engine was not running, and he was asleep. When pleading guilty, the driver indicated he “got in the seat, turned the radio on, keys in the ignition, cops pulled up, knocked on the window, [he] answered the questions and that was it ….”

There are three elements necessary to an OWI conviction, as follows:

  1. The operation of a motor vehicle;
  2. On “a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles,”
  3. While Intoxicated.

In Michigan, the term operating is defined “in terms of the danger the [OWI] statute seeks to prevent: the collision of a vehicle being operated by a person under the influence of intoxicating liquor with other persons or property.”[ii] Therefore, operating a vehicle extends to putting the vehicle “in a position posing a significant risk of causing a collision.” The defendant, in this case, was operating a vehicle because the engine was running, the transmission was in drive, the defendant was asleep at the wheel at a drive-through window, and the defendant’s foot on the brake pedal was the only reason the vehicle was not moving, thereby posing a significant risk of collision.

Similarly, an intoxicated defendant in was operating a truck Michigan when he tried to move it out of the middle of the freeway after an accident, even though the truck was not functioning because it posed a risk of injury.[iii]

By contrast, an intoxicated defendant sleeping at the wheel with the car running and the lights off was not operating the vehicle because the car was parked next to a golf cart storage shed in the parking lot, showing that the defendant could have been using the vehicle as shelter.  However, this case was unique because the original charge was attempted drunk driving, a specific intent crime.  Because the driver was using the vehicle for shelter and never intended to otherwise operate the car, the court found the element of operation lacking.[iv]

In Michigan, if you’ve been drinking, it’s best to stay far away from the inside of a motor vehicle.  Otherwise, if you have the keys in your possession, or if the car or any of its electrical equipment is turned to the on position, or if you start driving and change your mind and then pull over, you may find yourself facing a drunk driving criminal charge.  This is true in some circumstances even if you never intended to move the car from the park position.

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[i] People v. Nowak, No. 335097, 2017 WL 6598174, at *4 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 26, 2017)

[ii] People v. Wood, 450 Mich. 399, 404; 538 N.W.2d 351 (1995).

[iii] People v. Lechleitner, 291 Mich. App. 56, 58, 61; 804 N.W.2d 345 (2010).

[iv] People v. Burton, 252 Mich. App. 130, 132, 143–145; 651 N.W.2d 143 (2002)