By: Passalacqua & Associates

Can You Be Arrested for DWI if You’re “Sleeping It Off” in a Parked Car in the Utica/Syracuse Area?

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Most drivers in New York know that a driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction can very negatively and drastically affect your life. Should you be charged with driving while intoxicated in the greater Syracuse area, contact a Syracuse DWI attorney as quickly as possible.

Intoxicated drivers in the United States are the cause of more than 17,000 deaths every year, including the 307 people who lost their lives on New York’s streets and highways in alcohol-related traffic crashes in 2019 and 349 people in 2020.

In fact, about 27 percent of all traffic accident fatalities in New York State are alcohol-related. Thus, it comes as no surprise that police agencies in New York aggressively enforce the law against driving while intoxicated.

When Can You Be Arrested for DWI?

If a police officer in this state believes that you are “operating a motor vehicle” while intoxicated and that you pose a threat to others or yourself, you may be arrested, charged, and convicted for driving while intoxicated. A DWI conviction could ruin your life for many years into the future.

But how is “operating a motor vehicle” defined by the law? If a police officer finds you asleep in a vehicle, can that officer arrest you for driving while intoxicated? When should you contact a Syracuse DWI lawyer? Keep reading to learn these answers and more. You may be surprised.

Can You Be Charged With DWI if You’re Not Driving?

You can be arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in New York even if you are not driving a car or truck or if you are not driving at all. You can be charged with DWI if you are intoxicated while operating a golf cart, a riding lawnmower, or even an electric wheelchair.

And although it is called “driving” while intoxicated, a law enforcement officer who doesn’t see you driving may still arrest you for driving while intoxicated. Here is an example: You have a beer after work with some friends. You have car trouble on your way home, so you pull over.

If a police officer stops and smells beer on your breath, he or she may suspect you’ve been driving while intoxicated, even though that police officer never actually saw you behind the wheel.

The officer may ask you to submit to a breathalyzer test or field sobriety exam. If you appear to be impaired, or should the breathalyzer exam indicate that you’re too intoxicated to drive, you will probably be arrested for DWI.

What if You’re Asleep?

In New York, a driver can be charged for driving while intoxicated if that driver is “sleeping it off” in his or her vehicle. Even if you are not “operating” the vehicle, if you’re intoxicated in the driver’s seat, a police officer can take you into custody.

However, if you are sleeping in your back seat, your keys are not in the ignition, and the engine is off, you probably will not be placed under arrest. To determine a suspect’s intent, a law enforcement officer (or later, the court) will consider these questions:

  1.  Was the intoxicated individual in the driver’s seat or the back seat?
  2.  Was the vehicle’s engine off or on? Was the engine warm?
  3.  Where were the vehicle’s keys?
  4.  Was the vehicle operational or broken down?
  5.  Where was the vehicle parked?

How Do You Prevent a DWI Arrest?

Sleeping it off in your car or truck isn’t the smartest way to prevent intoxicated driving or being arrested for driving while intoxicated. A better idea is hiring a taxi, a limo, a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft, or calling a friend.

Nevertheless, should you decide to nap in your car or truck to “sleep it off,” put the keys away from the ignition and away from yourself – in the glove box or under a seat, for instance.

Do not fall asleep in the driver’s seat. Sleep in back after making certain that your vehicle is legally parked, away from traffic.

What’s Required for a DWI Conviction?

Drivers in the Syracuse area have been charged with driving while intoxicated after law enforcement officers have discovered them asleep in a highway rest area, on the side of a road, or in a parking lot.

However, to win a conviction against you for driving while intoxicated, a New York prosecutor must prove that you were in fact driving while you were impaired by alcohol (and/or drugs) before the police officer encountered you, and that proof must be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Do You Genuinely Need an Attorney for a DWI Charge?

Too many New Yorkers plead guilty to driving while intoxicated and accept the consequences, but a driving while intoxicated conviction can often be avoided. Do not enter a guilty plea at your DWI arraignment hearing, and do not decide to act as your own defense lawyer, either.

Your freedom and your future will be at stake. Pleading guilty and accepting the consequences may seem like an expedient way to handle a driving while intoxicated charge, but a conviction for driving while intoxicated will impact you negatively, in a number of ways, for years to come.

Should you accept a plea deal? First-time offenders – if they did not injure anyone or damage property – are typically allowed to plead guilty to a lesser charge, driving while ability impaired (DWAI). Your DWI lawyer will recommend either accepting or rejecting any plea bargain offer.

How Will an Attorney Help You?

If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level measured at or above 0.08 percent at the time of your arrest, you may be charged with DWI. If your BAC level measured at or above 0.18 percent, you may be charged with aggravated DWI, which entails even harsher penalties.

And even a first driving while intoxicated conviction may be penalized with a jail sentence and a costly fine. A Syracuse DWI attorney will review the charge against you, the breathalyzer test results, and any statements from the arresting officer or other witnesses.

Your DWI defense attorney will find any weaknesses in the state’s case and may dispute the evidence presented against you. But whether it’s your first offense or you’ve been charged with DWI in the past, you’ll need the advice and defense representation that a Syracuse DWI lawyer provides, and you will need that help as quickly as possible after a DWI arrest.