Guilty of DUI While In a Parked Car

In 2001, police in New Canaan, Connecticut arrested Andrew C. Haight for driving under the influence (DUI). Haight had been found asleep behind the steering wheel of his legally parked car. The engine was not running though the car’s lights were on and the key was in the ignition. Police noted that the open door alert chimed when they opened the car door, indicating that the key was in the ignition in either the off or accessories position.

Haight entered a nolo contendre plea, but later decided to appeal his DUI conviction. Defense attorneys argued that because the key was not in the ‘on’ or ‘start’ position that the vehicle was not in operation. That defense led to the reversal of the original charge in appellate court.

When the case was presented to the Connecticut Supreme Court though, prosecutors argued that placing a key in an ignition and even partially turning it constituted operation of the vehicle. The Court agreed, stating that the Connecticut DUI statute specifies that ‘operating’ a vehicle, not just driving, is enough for a drunk driving arrest.

The basis for that decision was found in the outcome of a case from 1939 where a car crashed into a bank building. When police arrived they found two drunken men, one man in the driver’s seat and another pushing the vehicle. The man behind the steering wheel was charged with drunk driving even though he said he had only moved into the driver’s seat after the accident. In the ensuing trial, a jury concluded that a vehicle was being ‘operated’ and the occupant of the driver’s seat was subject to a DUI charge. They wrote that when the person behind the
steering wheel "intentionally does any act or makes use of any mechanical or electrical agency which alone or in sequence will set in motion the motive power of the vehicle."

The Supreme Court thus ruled against Haight in his 2001 case, saying that by placing the key in the ignition he had set in motion actions that were meant to start and move the car.

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