OWI While Car Not Running – Can You Be Charged?
An interesting and substantive question that arises when a police arrive to the scene of a suspected drunk driving, yet the officer discovers that the individual may have not actually been driving the vehicle. Instead, the vehicle is parked, the engine is turned off, and the car is not in motion. In such cases, the courts have held that circumstantial evidence of operating the vehicle may be sufficient and used to support a drunk driving even though it’s an OWI while car not running.
An example of circumstantial evidence of operating a vehicle (or OWI while car not running) may include a situation where an officer arrives on the scene of an accident and observes several cars, not involved in the accident, pulled over in an apparent effort to provide assistance. If the officer, by questioning witnesses, gathers enough evidence to establish probable cause, he or she could arrest a person for an OWI misdemeanor (or OWI while car not running).
Questions such as “When did you stop?” “How long has it been since you drove your car here?” or “Have you had anything to drink since stopping here?” might be enough circumstantial evidence to justify the arrest. Furthermore, the smell of liquor or beer, staggering movement, empty liquor or beer bottle, or other evidence can contribute to whether an individual can be convicted of an OWI while car not running.
Another example of OWI while car not running can be found in People v Schinella, 160 Mich App 213, 407 NW2d 621 (1987). The defendant was found in the early morning at the wheel of his car, which was off the road, straddling a ditch. The engine was not running, but the hood and back tires were warm, and freshly broken tree branches had been placed under the wheels, apparently to provide extra traction. These facts sufficiently established that the person behind the wheel had been operating the vehicle.
One of the first questions an attorney should be asking is “how did the officer arrest the client for a misdemeanor that he or she did not see?”
The long-standing “misdemeanor arrest” statute was amended effective August 21, 2000, to provide for warrantless arrests for 93-day misdemeanors, including drunk driving offenses. If the officer has reasonable cause to believe that an individual operated the vehicle while intoxicated, regardless of the officer’s personal observation and regardless of the need for evidence of an accident, then he or she may arrest that suspect.
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