Myths About DUIs in Hamilton County, Indiana

Welcome back to another informative blog by the criminal defense professionals at Johnson Law Office, P.C., serving Central Indiana with special emphasis on Hamilton County, including Noblesville, Fishers, Carmel and Westfield. Today we will talk about some of the myths of DUIs (OVWIs), otherwise known as drunk driving or impaired driving. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just use the term DUI, as it is most commonly known.

There are many myths surrounding the topic of DUIs and the one that we will deal with today is the idea of “getting off” because “the cops never saw me drive.” Many a person has had a rude awakening because they thought they would have their case dismissed because they thought that since the police did not see them actually drive, then that automatically means that their case will be dismissed. In DUI terminology, the person is focusing on that element of the crime known as “operating a vehicle”, as in “operating a vehicle while intoxicated.”

Take for example an impaired/drunk driver who runs off the road, slides down a hill and spins out in the mud. He remains in his car. A passing motorist sees the car spinning his tires in the mud so he pulls over. After seeing the tires tracks down the hill and the furious but futile efforts of the car trying to drive out of the mud, he calls 911. The police arrive, with the drunk driver still trying to get traction in the mud. The police go up to the driver window to investigate the situation. They quickly smell the odor of alcohol (and perhaps burnt marijuana as well) and the focus of the investigation now shifts to a possible DUI.

If the DUI investigation of this hypothetical incident continues to go south for the impaired driver, he will be going to jail tonight and a DUI case will be filed with the local prosecutor’s office. The impaired driver might try to desperately client to the defense that no police officer saw him drive, but that is not as strong a defense as the impaired driver might think. A good prosecutor can prove by other means that the impaired driver was in fact the person who drove (operated) the vehicle off the road and into the mud. Much of this is common sense, including several factors: (1) was the impaired driver the only person in the car, or was there a passenger or two; (2) who is the registered owner of the car stuck in the mud.

Another hypothetical regarding the legal issue of “operating” a vehicle takes place when the impaired driver decides that he needs to “sleep it off” in his car. There are several issues in this type of scenario: (1) did he sleep it off in the bar parking lot (therefore, he did not even put the vehicle in gear let alone move the car); (2) if he was “sleeping it off”, was the engine running; (3) if the engine was running, was it freezing cold outside, such that the reason the engine was running was to keep the heater on so that the driver does not freeze to death.

In the first example cited above, the drunk driver who slid off of the road with no passenger is going to have a hard time proving to anyone that he was not the driver of the car. In the second example, the drunk person who tries to “sleep it off” in the bar parking lot on a cold night might have some success in asserting that he never drove the vehicle. But that can be a different issue from whether he “operated” the vehicle, because the engine was running.

In this day and age of cheap taxi service such as Uber or Lyft, an impaired person is most likely going to get less sympathy if he asserts his defense of “I was just trying to sleep it off.” To “sleep it off” while the engine is off and driver asleep in the car is quite a different issue from sleeping it off while the engine is running.

There are still other issues associated with the legal issue of “operating a vehicle” including where the vehicle was found. Was the vehicle co-located with the place where the impaired driver was consuming alcohol? Or was the vehicle found on the side of the road with the driver passed out in the car? If the latter, then was the engine running or not? In this example, the legal issue of “operating a vehicle” is not so much the focus. Instead, the focus shifts to the legal concept of the “three-hour presumption” which we will discuss in another blog.

The bottom line of today’s blog post is this: it is a myth to suppose that you cannot be arrested for DUI just because you think that the police did not see you drive. You can still be arrested for DUI even without the police actually seeing you drive. An ordinary citizen could have witnessed you drive your car, hit a tree, and then get out and start walking on the shoulder of the road. If you are arrested for DUI (OVWI) in Central Indiana, especially Hamilton County, we at Johnson Law Office, P.C. stand ready to provide you with experienced and competent criminal defense to navigate you through the potentially turbulent waters of being arrested for DUI. Give us a call at 317.536.6268.