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Is It Against the Law to "Sleep It Off" in My Car?


Imagine this situation: you had a few alcoholic beverages at happy hour or while out with some friends. Rather than driving, you choose to sleep it off in your car to avoid getting arrested for an OWI. Seems like the most logical decision, correct?

Unfortunately, in some circumstances, you can be arrested for drunk driving. According to Wisconsin law, being in a vehicle with a BAC over the legal limit (.08) could lead to an OWI charge if law enforcement believes any vehicle controls were manipulated.

The term “operating” is defined by state law as manipulating or activating any control of a motor vehicle required to put the vehicle in motion. This makes it a crime to even sit in a car with the keys in the ignition.

Operating may be proved by “circumstantial evidence,” which includes—but are not limited to—the following:

  • The keys are located in the ignition
  • You are sleeping in the driver’s seat
  • The car engine and tires are warm
  • The radio is on
  • The vehicle’s gear is in drive
  • The vehicle is on any part of the roadway, including slightly over the shoulder line

On the other hand, if you sleep in the backseat, store your car keys in the trunk or in the glove compartment, avoid turning your car on, and sleep in a legal parking spot, the circumstantial evidence can lead to the fact that you didn’t operate the vehicle whatsoever. However, depending on the judge or jury, you still may be convicted of OVI despite the precautionary measures taken.

At the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella, we recommend that you contact a designated driver or request a ride from Uber or Lyft if you in the middle of such a scenario. But if you have been arrested for attempting to sleep it off in your car, our Milwaukee criminal defense attorney can investigate your case, collect and analyze evidence, and develop a strong defense strategy to get your life back on track.

For more information about OWI, contact us and request a free consultation today.

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