A recent opinion piece in the Buffalo News asks the important question of whether or not police officers are going too far with some DWI (driving while intoxicated) charges? While the article’s author believes that driving drunk is dangerous and wrong, he also feels that the enforcement of some DWI laws in New York have become overzealous. He notes that under New York’s current laws a person can be convicted of driving while intoxicated even if they are not driving a car.

To support his claim, the author cites the story of a woman from Buffalo who had drunk too much to be able to drive safely and was charged with a DWI while sleeping it off in her car. While we don’t know the specifics surrounding this particular DWI arrest, it does highlight an interesting element of New York’s DWI laws; the ‘operating a motor vehicle’ requirement.

The Legal Definition Of ‘Operating’ A Vehicle In New York

New York’s drunk driving law under VTL 1192 makes it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while your ability to do so is impaired by the consumption of alcohol. While most of us probably feel fine using the words ‘operate’ and ‘drive’ somewhat interchangeably when referring to the use of a car, their different legal definitions can be of great importance in a drunk driving case. In New York, juries hearing DWI cases are given the following jury instructions:

“To OPERATE a motor vehicle means to drive it. [And if there is an issue as to operation], a person also OPERATES a motor vehicle when such person is sitting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle for the purpose of placing the vehicle in motion, and when the motor vehicle is moving, or even if it is not moving, the engine is running.”

This means that simply sitting in your car with the engine on while you’re drunk may properly lead to a DWI conviction in some instances. But what about sleeping? If you’re sleeping in your car with the engine on it certainly would seem that you do not intend to put your vehicle in motion. But what if your keys are in the ignition and you turned the car’s tires in preparation for driving away before you fell asleep? The court will take all of the facts surrounding the incident, as well as the evidence presented by both sides, into consideration when determining if the driver’s actions constitute operating a vehicle under the New York’s DWI law.

How Can We Help?

Charged with a DWI in New York? Contact our team today to learn your options. We’re available 24/7; 1-866-792-7800.

DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave DWI Defense Attorneys are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.