If you’ve drunk too much alcohol, sleeping it off in your auto until you sober up is the best option, so you don’t find yourself in trouble with the police for DUI. Well, surprisingly, you could face DUI charges for sleeping the alcohol off in your car if an arresting officer finds proof that you might have been operating the vehicle under the influence.
Per California law, the police can arrest you for DUI if you’re found sleeping in your car while drunk. California lawmakers created a distinct statute that permits an arrest to occur if a drunk driver is sleeping in an auto, even if the vehicle is not moving. However, many factors still need to be considered for an arrest to occur.
California Law on Sleeping in an Auto While Drunk
California lawmakers enacted VC 40300.5, which does not need that the police see a driver driving for them to make an arrest. Put otherwise, the law permits an arrest to occur even when the violation didn’t happen in front of the arresting officer. VC 40300.5 dictates that law enforcement officers can make a DUI arrest whenever they’ve probable cause to trust that you have been operating the vehicle while intoxicated and you:
- May damage property or inflict injury to yourself unless immediately placed under arrest.
- May conceal or destroy proof of the offense unless arrested immediately.
- Are in an automobile that’s obstructing a road.
- Were involved in a road crash of any kind.
- Won’t be apprehended except if immediately arrested.
The exceptions above favor the police. They make it simple for them to establish the driving element.
The law requires evidence of volitional movement of the car for you to be found guilty of DUI. But like in other areas of the law, circumstantial evidence is enough to prove this element of the crime, and nobody needs to have seen you driving. Circumstantial proof that may show you were operating a car include:
- A hood or engine that’s still warm.
- Your keys still in the auto.
- Your car is on and gear engaged.
- A car that’s damaged and close to the accident scene.
- Warm tires.
- An auto in any part of the road, including slightly over the shoulder line.
Failing to mention why there isn’t any other driver in the vehicle with you, denying being the motorist, or not saying where the actual motorist is, or their identity could also be proof against you. For instance, you may be in your car sleeping while drunk, and the police arrive at the exact time your actual driver had parked the car and left to buy gas since they’d run out of it. In this case, your attorney may win the case by arguing that you were not the actual driver.
As a case involving circumstantial evidence, everything from driving, admissions, observations to touching the car engine to see whether it was still hot/warm is relevant.
Can Police Officers Conduct an Investigation If They Catch You Asleep in Your Vehicle?
The law requires that the police have probable cause to conduct an investigation and lawfully arrest for DUI. The law also permits police officers to do a welfare check, like checking the safety of persons sleeping in an automobile. Probable cause for further investigation could be supported by their suspicion of alcohol during these checks. Plus, there are rules against sleeping off in an auto overnight in most counties or cities, which could support an officer waking you up to question you.
It’s critical to note that even if you don’t face DUI charges for sleeping in an auto while drunk, you could face public intoxication charges under PC 647(f).
There’s an exception under California VC 40300.6, which is when you are blocking the road in any way. After the law enforcement officers investigate to determine whether you need assistance, and in the process, notice anything that suggests you are impaired or smell alcohol, they have sufficient justification of probable cause to investigate you further then subject you to breath testing.
Defending Yourself Against DUI While Sleeping in Your Car
First of all, the DA will show that you were driving under the influence even if found passed out or asleep in a car. There might be direct proof of recent vehicle operation activity, like witness statements or your admission that you had been driving after drinking. There’s also circumstantial proof of recent driving as mentioned above. If there was a crash, the police might try to find evidence that you were the driver, for instance, the driver’s seat’s position, absence of other people at the accident scene, or the placement of injuries indicating that someone was in the driver’s seat.
In some instances, the arresting officer may find empty or open alcohol containers in your vehicle, which the DA could use to prove recent drinking. However, your lawyer may be capable of showing that you were drinking in your car after parking it, which is still a violation of the open container laws but isn’t a DUI crime.
One legal drunk-driving defense that your lawyer can use to negotiate your DUI charges with the DA or during trial is that you had rising blood alcohol. That is, you drank alcohol just before the officer came and conducted the blood or breath test and weren’t impaired, or your BAC level wasn’t at 0.08% or above at the time of your driving.
Usually, the DA’s expert witness points to the science that mentions that absorbing alcohol to the peak level occurs anywhere between 20 minutes and 90 minutes (primarily based on whether you’d eaten before drinking). After which, it will start to fall.
The charges against you will become much stronger if the prosecution’s witness testifies that they did see you buy and drink alcohol. Or if you had admitted that you had drunk alcohol after pulling over the vehicle, and you had the empty alcohol bottles around the car to prove so. But in many cases, almost all the facts of the case are usually against the defendant, even in a circumstantial evidence case.
It is easy to center on the cases involving DUI of alcohol while sleeping in a vehicle. But in case of a DUID charge, attorneys will also need to prove that any prescription drugs or narcotics weren’t consumed when driving. Because the law has been implemented so that it is unlawful to operate a vehicle with any illicit drugs in a motorist’s blood (and lawful one too), if you’re caught DUID, you’re deemed to be DUI (under similar/the same law as alcohol.
With expert testimony that’s clear, your case would be much stronger. Alternatively, with the correct expert and witness testimony and help from a skilled DUI defense attorney, the jury may rule that you are not guilty.
Sleeping in a non-moving car might be or not be why the police probe you for drunk - driving or other alleged crimes. As with most stops and arrests by law enforcement officers, it’s based on the circumstances and facts surrounding your case.
Under California law, you could also face charges for attempted DUI if you are caught trying to drive or show the specific intention to do so even when your vehicle is still parked. The attempt to commit any other offense is a distinct crime specified under PC 21(a). Even though drivers are theoretically likely to face attempted DUI charges, it rarely occurs, and it’s fact-specific as to be nearly non-existent.
Facing DUI Charges for Sleeping It Off in Your Vehicle If You Are Seated At the Back, or If the Keys to the Car Are At the Back Seat or Trunk
Given all the circumstances and facts surrounding the case, it is best to sit at the back. It is also best to put the car keys away from where you are seated. In case the car engine is off, it will make it more challenging for the DA to show you had driven just recently.
If you are seated at the back, and the law enforcement officer cannot find the car keys, how would they know you had been driving, or another person was not driving and had left the car? We have several possibilities, provided you’ve invoked your legal right to stay silent and don’t confirm anything the officers must prove. It is better to place the car keys at a place they can’t be seen and sit at the back, but even this does not always stop you from facing arrest for DUI.
The bottom line is that because California statute makes it that easy for the police to place you under arrest for DUI, your best option is taking an Uber, Lyft, or cab home if you’re impaired to drive. Alternatively, you can have another non-drinking motorist drive you home.
Find a DUI Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
If you’ve been accused of DUI while sleeping in your car, call The Law Offices of Ross Howell Sobel at 818-582-2350 for expert representation. We offer legal representation and advice to clients facing charges in San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles, California, facing DUI charges. We may be able to have the charges against you completely dismissed or reduced.