Can You Be Arrested for DUI if Nobody Sees a Car Being Driven?

The crime of drunk driving (driving under the influence) is one that often involves challenges to an officer’s sufficiency of evidence. Was there probable cause for a traffic stop? Was the offender’s blood alcohol level was above the legal limit? Was the person arrested for DUI actually driving? That may sound like a strange question, but a recent case raised just that issue.

Officers Find Car Crashed

In a recent case, Baltimore police were called to the scene of a traffic accident. The car was smoking, with fluids spilling out of it, and was still running. By all accounts, the car had been running before jumping the curb and crashing. The defendant was slumped over the wheel, unresponsive and intoxicated.

The defendant finally came to, exited the vehicle, and very wearily, began walking to his home, which was close to the accident. He refused a field sobriety test. Notably, refusal to take a sobriety test can now be used against a Defendant in trial, and the Defendant was convicted.

Was the Defendant Driving?

But was the defendant driving for the purposes of the statute? Nobody had observed him actually driving or the vehicle moving. Is finding a defendant intoxicated behind the wheel of a crashed car enough to infer that the defendant was actually driving while intoxicated?

The appellate court concluded that circumstantial evidence could be used to determine that the defendant had been driving, and in fact, in similar cases, it has been. In cases where officers felt an engine of a stalled car was warm, or where a car was observed overheating, courts have allowed juries to conclude that the defendant had been driving the vehicle even though nobody observed it happening.

Facts Count

There are cases in which the analysis is tougher. In many cases where people are passed out drunk behind the wheels of parked cars, there is no way to know if a defendant had driven drunk and then parked (illegal) or had been drunk and then just want to their parked car and sat there without ever driving it (legal). A person may simply be “sleeping off” intoxication inside a parked car. But in those cases, there was no evidence the car been immediately driven.

This case involved an actual accident, which can’t happen unless a car has been driven. The car had been found over a curb and in the bushes–there was no way a car even gets there without being driven first. Thus, the jury was justified in finding the defendant had been driving while intoxicated.

As you can imagine, many of these kinds of cases turn on fine factual details. Juries can consider all reasonable inferences and reasonable doubts. The question often comes down to whether other options are actually reasonable or not, and in this case, there was no other reasonable hypothesis than that the car had been immediately driven while the defendant was intoxicated.

DUI cases can be involved and require extensive investigation of all the facts. The attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience at all stages of the criminal defense process. If you or someone you know was arrested or charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today.