DUI and “Operation”

While we await the return of DUI checkpoints to the Jersey Shore, the Law Office of Frederick P. Sisto is happy to provide tips to help you avoid a wrongful DUI conviction. A common issue involves whether the State can prove that a suspected intoxicated driver was operating a motor vehicle.

Most are surprised to learn that the following is good law in New Jersey. A vehicle does not have to be in motion for a defendant to be found guilty of operating it. When an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, even an unsuccessful attempt to operate it makes them guilty of DUI. An intent to operate can be inferred from all of the surrounding circumstances, including the suspect’s statements.

A common “operation” scenario involves someone who intends to sleep in their vehicle while they sober up before driving. Some helpful steps to avoid providing proof of operation include: leaving the keys outside of the vehicle so that it can not be operated, sleeping in the back seat as opposed to the front where the ignition can be accessed, and disconnecting the car’s battery to render the vehicle inoperable. As always, it is best to politely decline to answer police questions to avoid making an admission to operating or intending to operate the vehicle.

Complications arise in cold weather when the car needs to be turned on for heat. A running vehicle with an occupant will often be enough to prove “operation” under New Jersey case law, even when the occupant is found asleep in the back seat. Therefore, engaging the ignition should be avoided unless it is a true emergency in a rural area where there is no opportunity to call for a driver. You should also keep blankets and warm layers of clothing in the vehicle so that you can stay warm without engaging the ignition.

Stay tuned for additional tips and remember that the best DUI defense is a designated driver. Have a good week-end!