In Virginia, it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Operating under Virginia law is defined differently than driving under Virginia law. For example, it is illegal to drive a vehicle in Virginia without a license. Under those circumstances, driving means operating a vehicle on a public highway, including temporary stops at traffic lights, signs, etc.
For DUI, however, the government must prove only that a person was operating a motor vehicle. Operating a vehicle in a Manassas DUI case has been interpreted by the Virginia courts to mean as little as a person sitting in a vehicle with the keys in the ignition. The vehicle does not have to be in drive, the engine does not even have to be running. Anytime a person is sitting in a car or other motor vehicle, and the keys are in the ignition so that the engine could be readily engaged, or if they are sitting in their car idling, these are considered operating for purposes of a DUI even if the person did not drive an inch. Given how easily a person can be charged with a DUI for operating a vehicle while under the influence, it is prudent to consult with a Manassas DUI lawyer when faced with these charges.
DUI Charges in a Parking Lot or Driveway
A person can be arrested for a DUI if they are driving in almost any location. There are some Virginia laws which make certain kinds of driving illegal if they take place on a public highway or on a public road. That can be anything from a state-maintained road to a parking lot of a shopping mall that is laid out for driving. Operation can also take place on private property and may even include simply sitting in the car, in park, with the engine running.
DUI Arrests in a Parked Vehicle
People are frequently arrested sitting in their vehicles not going anywhere when they are intoxicated. This happens when someone has too much to drink and, in trying to be responsible, they sit in their car, turn the engine on, and fall asleep. A police officer comes by or someone alerts the police that there is a person in a vehicle who appears to be asleep or passed out. The police come up to the vehicle and knock on the window to make sure the individual is okay. If the officer finds the person to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs and they determine that the vehicle was being operated by being left on or by having the keys in the ignition, they may administer field sobriety tests and ultimately may issue a DUI charge. A Manassas DUI lawyer can help contest these charges.
Proving Operation in Court
The prosecution in every DUI case in Virginia must prove that the motor vehicle was being operated. There are a number of circumstances where this is called into question. The most frequent one occurs when there is an accident of some kind. In many cases, a person is in a single vehicle accident or a multiple vehicle accident. They exit their motor vehicle and by the time the police arrive may be perhaps near their vehicle, but not inside the vehicle and not operating it.
If the police determine that person is under the influence, there must be some proof that the person was driving and under the influence at the same time. The first component of this is proving that the person was driving at all. There must be a statement made by the person acknowledging that they were driving or some other witness who can place them inside the vehicle for the government to prove the person was driving.
Another issue that frequently comes up is that even if the government can prove the person was driving at some point and can also prove that by the time the police arrive the person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the government still must prove that the person was intoxicated at the time they were driving. This typically involves proving that the drinking did not happen after the driving occurred.
Can a Passenger Be Charged With a DUI?
If it is not clear who is driving and there were multiple occupants of the vehicle, the police may sometimes charge more than one person. This is not something that happens often, but it a tactic that can be used to get one of the occupants of the vehicle to turn on the other or to prompt one of them to take responsibility for driving the vehicle.
It is not the case that two people can be convicted of operating the motor vehicle under the influence. In fact, it would be very difficult for the government to try to proceed where two people are charged. For that reason, it does not happen very often, but it is something that can happen.
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