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The Basics of DC DUIs

Although DUI charges seem pretty straightforward, there are certain legal definitions that can complicate what it means to drive under the influence. Before individuals get behind the wheel of a vehicle, potentially putting themselves and others into harm’s way, it is vital they know how the District of Columbia prosecutes and defines certain factors related to DUIs. Call a Washington, DC DUI lawyer for further help in your case.

Definition of “Driving” in DC

You can get a DUI even if you weren’t driving. While “driving under the influence” and “driving while intoxicated” are the common names for the statutes and the crimes that they allege, they do not require actual driving. In DC, the statutes require that you be in “actual physical control” of a vehicle, which doesn’t mean that the vehicle has to be on or that the individual has to be awake.

If an individual is sitting in the driver seat of a vehicle with the engine running, even if the vehicle is not moving, that certainly constitutes actual physical control. Where it becomes trickier is when the vehicle is not actually turned on and the keys are not in the ignition. Then it comes down to the circumstances of where the person is and where the keys are in relation to the person and the ignition. Those facts can be critically important, but the short answer is that you absolutely can be convicted of DUI in the District of Columbia even if the car was never turned on, let alone driven.

How Often People Get Arrested for DUI While Not Driving

People do get arrested for DUI without actually driving a vehicle. The parking lot situation—when someone is just sitting in his or her car in a parking lot—is not uncommon at all. An even more common instance is when someone is sitting in a car parked on the side of the road. We also see people arrested sitting outside of their homes. The car hasn’t been moved, but nonetheless the car is on. Of course, the usual DUI case is when someone is pulled over while driving, but we do see plenty of situations in which someone wasn’t driving when the police became involved.

Getting Arrested While in Parking Lot or Driveway

You do not need to be driving on a road to be arrested for DUI. You can be arrested and convicted for DUI even if you weren’t driving and the vehicle was not on the road, but you were in the vehicle. The statutes are written very broadly and basically encompass any vehicle within the District of Columbia. In theory, you can be arrested, charged and convicted for DUI if you are in a vehicle, have actual physical control of that vehicle and are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, no matter where that vehicle may be located.

As a practical matter, if an individual is, say, in his or her car in the garage of his or her own house, it seems unlikely that the police are going to become involved in that situation and end up making an arrest and filing charges. But theoretically, that could happen. And it does happen a lot in parking lots because someone may be too drunk to continue driving and either pulls over into a parking lot or never actually gets on the road in the first place. Someone might get into his or her car in a parking lot and turn it on, then maybe listen to the radio or turn on the air conditioning, and for one reason or another, police become involved. That person certainly can be prosecuted for DUI.

Do Police Patrol Parking Lots Near Bars & Restaurants?

It’s fair to assume that law enforcement officers are patrolling parking lots near bars and restaurants. There are enough DUI charges coming from individuals who were in the parking lot or had just left the parking lot of a bar or a restaurant that it makes sense to assume that police officers are specifically looking in those areas. If police officers are concerned about enforcing DUI laws, they’re certainly going to pay attention to the areas where they think they’re likely to find someone who is violating those laws. That would of course include areas near bars and restaurants.

Necessity of Prosecution Proving Driving in DC DUIs

The prosecution doesn’t have to prove driving in a DUI case. They only have to prove actual physical control. If they can prove driving, it makes the case better for them because that eliminates any argument about whether or not the defendant was actually in control of a vehicle. If the defendant was driving, then he or she clearly was in actual physical control of the car.

If the prosecution can’t prove driving—basically, if the car wasn’t moving—then they’re going to have to prove actual physical control in some other fashion. If they can’t prove that, they can’t prosecute the case successfully against the defendant. The charge will certainly be contested because if the defense can show that the prosecution cannot establish actual physical control of the vehicle, the prosecution can’t win that case. In any case where there’s any kind of argument to be made about whether the defendant was in control of the vehicle, the defense absolutely will contest it.

What Happens When Uncertain of Driver

A passenger will only be prosecuted for DUI if the police have made a mistake. DC, unlike some jurisdictions, does not have a law wherein a passenger in a vehicle can actually be charged with a DUI offense. In some jurisdictions, if the owner of a vehicle is a passenger while someone else is driving the vehicle and they’re both inebriated, they both could be charged.

However, it doesn’t work that way in DC. If it’s not obvious who the driver was and the police have to make a decision, they will arrest the person whom they believe to be the driver, cite that person for DUI and turn the case over for prosecution. And they get that wrong sometimes. There are certain circumstances—for example, if there was a crash and there were multiple people in the car, and by the time the police got there, everyone was out of the car and it’s not clear who was driving—the police will make a determination about who was driving based on the facts before them, but they might be wrong.

In that sense, a passenger could face charges because they police have gotten it wrong. But in DC, if you truly are just a passenger and someone else was driving the vehicle, then absent some error you won’t be charged with DUI.