Can You Be Charged With a DUI If You Pull Over “To Sleep it Off”?

DUIIt’s been a tough week.  You have been swamped at work and you have been busy at home with activities with the kids.  Finally it’s Friday and you made it. Your co-workers invite you to go out for drinks to relax after the end of a long week and you accept.  After a couple of hours at a local bar of unwinding with your co-workers and after a few drinks, it’s time to go home.  You get in your car and start driving and after a few minutes you realize that you may be in no condition to drive.  You don’t know if it’s the alcohol or if you are just tired from your long week, so you decide to pull over and take a nap because you don’t want to take a chance of nodding off while driving and getting into an accident.  So you pull over on a side street, park your car, shut off the engine and take a nap.  After a few minutes you wake up to the sounds of knocking on your car window.  It’s a police officer who is trying to get your attention.  You explain to the officer that you are tired so you pulled over to take a nap before heading home.  The officer asks you if you have been drinking and you tell him you had a couple of drinks a while ago but had a long week and are just tired.  You pull your car keys out of your pocket and the officer asks you to exit your vehicle.  The officer asks you to perform certain tests and then informs you that your are under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.  So how can you be charged with a DUI when you were just taking a nap in your car?

This fact pattern is pretty common.  Unless you understand the law in Illinois, it’s hard to comprehend how you can be charged with a DUI when you were doing the responsible thing and getting off the road when you realized you were in no condition to drive.

The key factor in determining whether you could be charged with a DUI is if you had actual physical control of a motor vehicle.  Whether you had actual physical control of your motor vehicle depends on the specific facts of each case.  The Court will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine whether you had actual physical control of your motor vehicle.  The leading case on this issue in Illinois is City of Naperville v. Watson, 677 NE2d 955 (1977).  In this case, the police found Watson sitting in the driver’s seat asleep with his head on the passenger seat.  Watson had the engine running so he could have the heat on.  There was no evidence that he was driving or that he was planning on driving his vehicle.  Yet, in this case the Court found that he was in actual physical control of his vehicle based on the fact that he was sitting in the front seat, the keys were in the ignition and the car was running.  Since he was in actual physical control of his vehicle, he could be charged with a DUI.  What seemed to be important in that case was that Watson had possession of the keys to the vehicle.  The Court specifically found that “sleeping it off” is not a defense to a DUI.  The Court refused to give an intoxicated motorist a “good citizen discount” for realizing they were in no condition to drive.  Rather the court doesn’t want someone who is intoxicated from entering a motor vehicle unless they are a passenger.

As you can see, there’s a difference between what the law considers to be the actual physical control of a motor vehicle and what the plain understanding of what that term may be.

James Dimeas is an award winning Chicago criminal defense attorney and author with more than 23 years of experience aggressively representing his clients in DUI cases.  If you have a DUI case in Illinois, contact me in Chicago (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096) or Lake (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.

Additional Resources:

City of Naperville v. Watson, 677 NE2d 955 (1977).

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