What is “physical control” of a motor vehicle?
You don’t necessarily have to be driving your vehicle in order to receive a DWI, you can also be in “physical control” of it. But what exactly does being in “physical control” mean? Well that is the same difficult question many courts have faced.
Mere presence in or about the vehicle is not enough for physical control; it is the overall situation that is determinative. State v. Starfield, 481 N.W.2d 834, 838 (Minn. 1992). In considering whether or not a defendant is in physical control of the motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, there are many factors to consider. Those factors include, the defendant’s location in or by the vehicle, the location of the keys, whether the defendant was a passenger in the vehicle before it came to rest, who owned the vehicle, the extent to which the vehicle was inoperable, and whether the vehicle if inoperable might have been rendered operable so as to be a danger to persons or property. Starfield, 481 N.W.2d at 839. The Court may consider these as well as any other facts or circumstances bearing on whether or not the defendant was then in physical control of a motor vehicle which was or reasonably could become a danger to persons or property while the defendant was under the influence of alcohol. Id. at 839.
In another case, State v. Fleck the Court held, a jury could reasonably find that the Defendant, having been found intoxicated, alone, and sleeping behind the wheel of his own vehicle with the keys in the vehicle’s console, was in a position to exercise dominion or control over the vehicle and that he could, without too much difficulty, make the vehicle a source of danger. 777 N.W.2d 233, 237 (Minn. 2010).
It seems odd that you don’t have to be in “physical control” of the vehicle to be in “physical control” doesn’t it? That you could be outside your vehicle but have the keys in your pocket, or be sleeping in your car and be found to be in “physical control”? Better safe than sorry, make sure to find a safe ride home.