Most of us have done it at some point in our lives. You're out with friends for the evening, you've had a few drinks, and when it's time to head home, you realize it's probably a good idea to wait a while before driving. Sleeping it off in your car is the responsible thing to do, right? Unfortunately, you could still face a DWI in some situations if the Houston police decide to wake you up and charge you. It can seem like you're being punished for being responsible. But it's important to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, you may have a good defense. You should immediately talk to a Texas DWI law expert to discuss your options.
What is a DWI in Texas?
The Texas statute on driving while intoxicated makes it a crime to operate a motor vehicle in a public place if you're intoxicated.
- Public Place Driving in a “public place” doesn't have to mean a road or a highway. Public places under the DWI statute also include any place typically open to the public, like a shared driveway or a parking lot, even if it's on private property. It can also include the shoulder on the road.
- Intoxication Whether you're intoxicated isn't always a clear, objective standard. Under the law, you can be “intoxicated” if:
- Your blood alcohol content is .08% or more, or .04% or more if you have a commercial driver's license, or
- You no longer have the normal use of your mental and physical faculties.
See Tex. Crim. Code § 49.01. This means you don't necessarily have to have a BAC over the legal limit to face a DWI charge. The police can still use their subjective judgment to determine whether you no longer have the normal use of your mental or physical faculties.
How Can Sleeping be “Driving”?
The last element of a DWI charge is “operating a motor vehicle.” You might assume that operating a vehicle means driving it, right? But what if you're sleeping in your car? How can that be “operating a motor vehicle?” The Texas DWI statute doesn't define exactly what this is. However, Texas case law defines “operating” a car as making it function in a way that allows you to use it. In the past, Texas courts have convicted people for DWI when:
- The keys were in the car's ignition,
- Someone identifies you as having driven the car, and
- When someone was sleeping or sitting in the driver's seat of a car.
In other words, the police have broad leeway to decide whether you are “operating” a motor vehicle. While sleeping in the back seat of your car in a parking lot might be OK. But if you have the keys in the ignition or turn your car on to use the air conditioning, listen to the radio, or charge your phone, the police might decide that you are “operating” a car and arrest you for DWI.
You Need an Expert in Texas DWI Law
If you're facing a DWI charge when you were just sleeping in your car, you should talk to an expert in DWI law as soon as possible. You may have a good defense, and the state will have the burden to prove that you were operating a vehicle. Attorney Doug Murphy is one of only two attorneys in the state who is Board Certified in both Texas Criminal Defense Law and DWI Defense, making him an expert in DWI law and criminal defense. Doug was also recently named a “Lawyer of the Year” for 2023 Houston DWI defense by U.S. News & World Report. Call the Doug Murphy Law Firm, P.C., today at 713-229-8333, or contact them online to schedule a consultation.