A person who gets behind the wheel and decides he/she is too drunk to drive may be tempted to sleep it off in the car. While the intention may be to sober up until one is ready to drive again, this decision could still lead to a conviction for DWI in NJ.
Earlier this year, a New Jersey man’s DWI conviction was upheld by a three-judge appellate panel, despite the fact that he was not driving. The ruling draws on a long-held legal standard that a vehicle does not have to be in motion in order for a person to be “operating” it.
Police encountered 55-year-old John Thompson in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. Thompson had purchased a sandwich, then returned to his car. After eating half the sandwich, he fell asleep in the vehicle with the engine on.
The smell of alcohol prompted police to conduct a sobriety test, which Thompson failed. He had refused to take a breathalyzer. The trial court convicted Thompson of DWI on the basis of the failed test. He was also charged and convicted for his breathalyzer refusal.
Many drivers would be surprised to find that sleeping in one’s vehicle with the engine on would be considered “intending to operate.” However, the Thompson case, as the judges noted, is not a new decision. In fact, in the past 12 months, seven different NJ cases have dealt with drivers sleeping off intoxication in their vehicles, only to be convicted of DWI.
The warning for drivers is that sleeping off a night of drinking inside one’s car is not the best idea. One would be better advised to find a place to sleep indoors. Better still would be to leave the vehicle where it is (if possible) and call a friend, rideshare, or taxi.
A person convicted of DWI in New Jersey can be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail, have his/her license suspended, and be ordered to pay more than $3,000 in fines, fees, and surcharges. The conviction can also raise insurance rates by hundreds of dollars per month. Anyone charged with DWI in New Jersey must contact an attorney right away for help.