Do You Have To Be Driving Your Vehicle To Be Guilty of a DUI in Illinois?

DUIThe short answer to the question presented in the title to this post is no.  Let me explain.

In my 23 years of practicing law, I have seen it all and have been asked every question that you could imagine.  One of the most common areas in which I get asked questions has to do with whether someone has to actually be driving their motor vehicle in order to be guilty of Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI). In Illinois, you are considered to be “driving” a vehicle, for purposes of a DUI, if you have actual physical control of a motor vehicle.  Whether you had actual physical control of a motor vehicle depends on the totality of the circumstances.  Some of the factors are where you were sitting in the vehicle, did you have the key to the vehicle, what were you doing inside the vehicle and did you have the ability to start the vehicle and move it?

I’m writing this article because I just had a case in which my client had attended a party at a bar and had too much to drink.  My client realized that he was in no condition to drive so when he went to his vehicle, he decided to put back his driver’s seat and go to sleep.  A few hours later, the police responded to a call of a man possibly passed out or dead in a parked vehicle and approached my client’s vehicle.  The officer saw my client laying back in the car seat and started knocking on the window of the vehicle to get my client’s attention.  My client woke up and opened the door.  My client was eventually pulled out of the vehicle, the officer detected the strong odor of alcohol on my client’s breath, administered field sobriety tests and placed my client under arrest for suspicion of  Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol (DUI).  Under Illinois law, my client was considered to be “driving” the vehicle because of the facts of the case.  He was inside the vehicle and the vehicle was in good working condition.  He lived in the suburbs and had driven to the city for the event.  What was most damaging to my client’s case was the police officer recovered the keys to the vehicle in the front pants pocket of my client.

In 1997 the Illinois Supreme Court issued a ruling which pretty much describes what “driving” is defined for a DUI.  In City of Naperville v. Watson, 677 NE2d 955 (1997), the police found Taylor laying across the front seat of his car, his head on the passenger seat, and the motor running so he could have the heat on.  Taylor had not driven the car to the location and had no intention of driving the vehicle.  He was merely sleeping in the vehicle with the engine on to provide heat.  The Supreme Court looked at the fact that he had the motor running, the keys were in the ignition, his position inside the vehicle, and that he was under the influence of alcohol as enough evidence to sustain his DUI conviction.

As you can see, what most people consider “driving” is not what the law considers to be “driving” for purposes of a DUI.

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 (1997).