Court News

Jan 22, 2014 2:52 PM by Sanjay Talwani - MTN News

MT high court: Sleeping drunk behind wheel is still DUI

HELENA - The Montana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a drunk person sleeping behind the wheel of a running car is still "in physical control" of the vehicle and subject to DUI arrest and prosecution.

More precisely, the court agreed with Helena District Judge James Reynolds, who refused to allow a man charged with DUI to raise that defense in front of a jury.

Lewis and Clark County deputies found the defendant in the case, Jason Rand, sleeping in the driver's seat of his vehicle with the motor running.

They checked to see whether he needed assistance and found he smelled strongly of alcohol, according to the court order. They then conducted sobriety tests and arrested Rand for DUI.

Rand maintained throughout that he did not intend to drive, but to sleep in his running vehicle.

Lewis and Clark County prosecutors sought and received an order from Reynolds before the trial, prohibiting Rand from telling a jury about his intentions; he was convicted and later appealed.

The court noted that in Montana DUI is a "strict liability offense" that doesn't require intent.

"In light of this well-settled Montana law, the District Court properly found that evidence of Rand's intent was irrelevant to the trial, and properly refused Rand's instruction that his mental state should be considered in determining ‘actual physical control,'" Justice Michael Wheat wrote for a unanimous five-judge panel.

"A driver remains in actual physical control of a vehicle while asleep behind its steering wheel; movement or intended movement is not required," the ruling concluded.


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