One Car. Two Sisters. Both Arrested for DWI. Wait, what?!

3 Jul

Two sisters in Florida were recently arrested for DWI. At the same time. While driving the same car. Yes, you read that correctly. So, how did these sisters manage to pull this off? Well, the youngest one – 18 years old – was allegedly zig-zagging down a highway, which attracted the attention of a local police officer. When the officer pulled up behind the vehicle, he turned on his lights and siren. Abruptly, the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road. Then, the sisters changed seats by hopping over one another inside the vehicle. Needless to say, the officer had no trouble noticing the switcheroo occurred. The consequence is that the older sister – 24 years old – was now behind the wheel. And even though she didn’t drive the vehicle anywhere, she was in control of the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. Thus, both sisters were arrested and charged with DWIs – coincidentally enough, they both blew .12.

The key fact leading to the arrest and charge of the older sister is that she was in physical control of the vehicle. In Minnesota, physical control is defined as:

Being in a position to exercise dominion or control over the vehicle. Thus, a person is in physical control of a vehicle if he has the means to initiate any movement of that vehicle and he is in close proximity to the operating controls of the vehicle, and this is true whether the vehicle can be driven on the highway at that point or not.

Minnesota courts have extended this definition to include vehicles that are parked and even when a person is outside the vehicle. In these extenuating circumstances, courts will look to the surrounding facts to determine whether the defendant was in physical control, such as whether the keys are in the ignition, whether the car is running, and if other individuals are in or outside the vehicle.

As in previous years, you can expect local law officials will be doing DWI patrol this Fourth of July weekend. So, if part of your celebration over this holiday weekend involves enjoying a few adult beverages, keep in mind that the switcheroo does not work! Have a safe, enjoyable, and responsible Fourth of July!

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This blog entry is written by James Gempeler, an associate at Thomsen Nybeck. James practices in the litigation area of the firm with a focus on criminal defense, general civil litigation, construction litigation, and is a prosecutor for the Metropolitan Airports Commission.

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