Can You Be Arrested for DUI in Tennessee if You Are “Sleeping it Off” in Your Parked Car?
“So let the good times keep on rollin’
Open up the cooler, I’ll do the pourin’
Baby, ’cause this night is just gettin’ goin’
There’s no need to worry ’bout the mornin’
‘Cause we’ll just sleep it off
We’ll just sleep it off.”
“Sleep it Off” by Emersion Drive
Hopefully, the fellow in the song is not planning on doing it in his parked car. Because the answer to the question is YES. You can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence if you are found “sleeping off” your night of levity in your (or even someone else’s) automobile.
“Why? How can that be? I wasn’t even driving! The car was parked? It wasn’t’ even running!” Yes, I’ve heard this story in my practice. Here’s the problem:
In Tennessee, a police officer can arrest you for DUI if you appear to have “physical control of a vehicle.” The vehicle does not have to be in motion or even turned on for you to be in “physical control” of it.
The classic example is the woman who leaves the party feeling tipsy, and decides to just sit in the driver’s seat of her car until she feels sober enough to drive. She puts the key in the front seat console, leans back and starts to snooze. A little while later, she wakes up to see a police officer staring into her vehicle. The next thing she knows, she’s failing field sobriety tests, and taking a ride down to the station.
Would she have been better off sleeping in the back sear? No, probably not. The “key” to this situation is the keys (yes, pun intended). As long as the keys are somewhere in the car and she is in proximity to them (meaning she can easily get them), she can be deemed to be in “physical control” of the vehicle.
THE BOTTOM LINE: If you find yourself in the situation of being inebriated and thinking you should “sleep it off,” your best bet is to not do it in a car, whether yours or someone else’s. If you do make the mistake of doing that, and you end up “in the tank,” consult an attorney about your options. Sometimes, these cases can be negotiated down to a lesser charge, or even a conditional dismissal. (For example, I recently had a case involving a client who was found by the police outside a bar in the drier’s seat of her friend’s car. We got the charge dismissed on the condition that she attend alcohol safety school.)