If you’ve gone to a party and had a few drinks, you may think the responsible thing to do is to sleep it off in your car. From a safety standpoint, you’re ensuring that you’re able to think more clearly.
However, from a legal standpoint, you can still be at risk for a DUI in California. A police officer doesn’t have to witness you driving to arrest you for a DUI. Simply not having your keys in the ignition isn’t enough on its own to prevent you from getting arrested for drunk driving.
If you’ve been accused of a DUI, you should contact a lawyer. Getting a lawyer sooner rather than later can be necessary to prevent losing your license, which can occur without ever being convicted of a DUI. Call (310) 896-2724 today to schedule a free consultation with a leading DUI lawyer.
How You Can Get a DUI if the Keys Are Not in the Ignition
You don’t need to be found driving in your vehicle or even still inside your vehicle in order to be charged with a DUI under California law. California Vehicle Code 23152 states that it is illegal for any individual to drive under the influence of alcohol. The statute provides the two general guidelines for a DUI conviction:
- You must have been driving the vehicle
- You must have had alcohol in your system
Under this statute, a person who parked their car a few minutes before an officer arrived is as guilty of DUI as someone who is pulled over on a highway.
Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles
Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles upheld the practice of convicting individuals of DUI without needing to observe the movement of the motor vehicle. However, it affirmed the idea that any such DUI conviction added a burden for the prosecution to prove that the accused caused the car to move.
Proving that you caused the car to move can be done in one of two ways:
- Showing evidence that you moved the car (e.g., put the car into neutral and released the brake)
- Providing indirect evidence that strongly points to you having moved the vehicle recently
The indirect evidence may come in the form of several pieces of circumstantial evidence. If the engine of the car is warm, the keys are in the ignition, you are sitting in the driver’s seat, and there is no one else around to drive the car, the prosecution can secure a DUI conviction.
Building a DUI Defense
The Mercer ruling means that not having your keys in the ignition can be part of your defense against a DUI charge, but it isn’t enough on its own. You can help your case by showing that:
- The keys were stored out of reach (e.g., the trunk)
- You were not occupying the driver’s seat
- There was someone else in the vehicle who could have driven
- The engine was not warm at the time of your arrest
The more facts that you or your DUI lawyer can bring to the court, the less likely you will face a conviction.
The weaker the evidence against you, the more likely the prosecution is to drop the case or to offer a favorable plea bargain. If you were arrested for a DUI, but you can point to your keys not being in the ignition, the prosecution may be inclined to offer you a downgraded charge, such as:
- Drinking in a vehicle
- Open Container
These are traffic infractions for individuals 21 or older, which carry a maximum penalty of a $250 fine. Compare that to a first time DUI charge, which comes with:
- Fines and fees that may cost several thousands of dollars
- Jail time for up to 180 days
- License suspension for six months
- Installation of an ignition interlock device
- Mandatory DUI education classes for three months
A first time DUI conviction is also a criminal misdemeanor. You will have a criminal record if convicted of a DUI, which can have additional ramifications for getting a job or applying for school.
Turn to a DUI Lawyer for Your Best Possible Defense
Getting a plea bargain isn’t simple. A prosecutor will not offer a downgraded offense charge unless they are concerned a jury won’t find the evidence convincing. A DUI lawyer can help you by negotiating on your behalf and pointing out how weak the evidence against you is.
If you’re ready to build the best defense possible, you should call (310) 896-2724 today. Our experienced lawyers are ready to evaluate the evidence against you and help you fight the DUI charges you’re facing.