Thomas G. WitkopLaw Offices

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When is a car not a car for drunk driving purposes? When it is a shelter.



The police officer saw my client parked along the side of the road in a legal parking space with the headlights on at 3 AM. The officer circled around the block and 5 min. later my client was in the same place. The officer got out of his patrol car and took pictures of my client who was in the driver seat slumped over the steering wheel. The headlights were on, the engine was running, it was late December and very cold outside. The officer woke up my client and she did poorly on the field sobriety tests and later took a breath test which indicated that she was somewhat drunk.

At trial the state was able to prove the above things. On cross-examination I was able to confirm that the car was legally parked and properly parked and had not moved the two times that the officer saw the car. Also, the car had not run into the car ahead of it. I called several witnesses which established that my client had gone to a birthday party at a restaurant. At the restaurant she had been drinking. Because of that drinking she had a designated driver take her car to the next spot. At the next spot she drank some more, did not feel well and told the group that she would wait for them in the car. It was cold outside and she turned the car on for heat. The group could not find her and although they made several calls to her she did not pick up because she was tired and had fallen asleep in the car.

At the end of the case I argued to the judge that under Maryland law our highest court has held that in some very narrow circumstances, a drunk person may use an automobile as shelter. We were able to demonstrate that she had not driven a car drunk, that she had no intention of driving the car and that indeed she was only using it for shelter. I believe what swayed the judge was one witnesses testimony that my client had already established a designated driver when she first left the restaurant. The judge acquitted her of all charges.

I want to stress that although the above is an accurate statement of the law in Maryland in my opinion, it is a very narrow exception. In other words, this is not a recommendation that you get drunk and get into your car. Take a taxi, take a bus, call a friend, stay away from your vehicle when you are under the influence.
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