Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles

Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles was a Los Angeles Superior Court case. It set a precedent that a person cannot have their license suspended for DUI unless there is evidence that you voluntarily moved your vehicle—essentially ruling out “parked car DUIs.”

When you are arrested for DUI in Los Angeles, the first thing that happens is police refer your driver’s license to the state DMV, which will typically suspend your license after 30 days. The Mercer case, however, established an important exception. In that case, Mercer’s attorney argued that the license should never have been suspended because Mercer was not actually driving. Obviously, you cannot be “driving” under the influence if you are not driving at all.

Eventually, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled in favor of Mercer and ordered the DMV to set aside the suspension. This created a precedent which guides all Los Angeles DUI cases. Essentially, if you are being accused of a parked car DUI or you are using the no driving defense, the prosecutor must show evidence that you drove the vehicle.

Based on Mercer v. DMV, driving is now determined using two rules:

  • You must have voluntarily moved the car in some way, whether it was actual driving or simply releasing the brake to let the car roll.
  • “Circumstantial” evidence, or indirect evidence, is allowed to determine whether you were driving. For example, if the engine is still warm and no one else is in the vehicle who could have driven, this counts as evidence that you drove.

In general, Mercer v. DMV makes it harder to convict someone of DUI if it’s unclear whether they drove or not. In some cases, prosecutors will drop the DUI case entirely if they have no strong evidence of driving.

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