When Is Someone “Operating” a Vehicle Under Arizona DUI Law?

One of the elements that the prosecution must prove in an Arizona DUI charge is that the driver was in actual physical control of a vehicle. If the prosecution cannot establish this fact, then the defendant must be found not guilty. However, courts define “actual physical control” quite broadly, as illustrated in a recent appellate decision.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant’s parents called police after they noticed that their new truck was missing. They told the police that their son, the defendant, had been drunk earlier in the day, and that they believed he stole their truck and drove it while under the influence. Because the defendant had a prior DUI, he was required to have an ignition interlock installed on any vehicle he drove.

Not long after speaking with the defendant’s parents, police officers located the truck with the defendant asleep inside. The truck’s lights were on, but the engine was off, and the keys were not in the ignition. Police woke the defendant up, who told them that the keys were “where they were supposed to be.” However, the defendant did not elaborate, and the officers never found the keys.

Police officers took a sample of the defendant’s blood, which revealed his blood-alcohol content was nearly four times the legal limit. The defendant was arrested, charged, and convicted of several DUI offenses.

On appeal, the defendant argued that he could not be found guilty of driving under the influence because he did not have the keys, and the keys were never found.

The Appellate Court’s Opinion

On appeal, the court affirmed the defendant’s convictions. The court began its analysis by noting that state law requires the prosecution to show that a defendant was either driving or in actual physical control of the vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating substances. However, the discovery of an ignition key is not imperative. The court explained that, even in situations where the defendant no longer has control over the vehicle, “if it can be shown that such person drove while intoxicated to reach the place where he or she was found, the evidence will support a judgment of guilt.”

Thus, the court concluded that, although the defendant was not in actual control of the vehicle at the time police discovered him asleep behind the wheel, because he must have driven drunk to get to where he was found, he could be found guilty of DUI.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona DUI Offense?

If you have recently been charged with a DUI offense, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a veteran Tempe DUI defense attorney with decades of experience litigating all types of drunk driving cases – from first-time offenses to Extreme DUIs. As a former prosecutor, Attorney Novak understands how the other side sees these cases and uses this knowledge to effectively craft a defense for each of his clients. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend your freedom from the allegations you face and to schedule a free consultation today, call 480-413-1499.

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