Can you get arrested for driving while intoxicated in New Jersey if you are found sleeping in a parked car?

The answer to that question may surprise some people in the Garden State. Whether prosecutors can obtain a conviction is a separate question that may be heavily dependent upon the unique facts alleged in a case.

New Jersey law prohibits driving under the influence — as many people likely know. But the use of the term “driving” essentially involves complex legal analysis, at times. The New Jersey statutes often use words like “driving” and “operating” interchangeably. Courts are likely to define operation of a motor vehicle broadly.

Take for instance the story from Bayonne, New Jersey. Law enforcement claims that a Bayonne man was found sleeping in his car. The car was found stopped for a traffic light. Law enforcement claims that the engine was running and the man behind the wheel still had his foot depressing the brake pedal. Law enforcement says that the driver smelled of alcohol and after officers awoke him; he was arrested in suspicion of DWI.

Sleeping behind the wheel cases can vary from case to case. Often, stories in the media may portray a driver found slumped over the wheel. But, what happens if someone chooses to take a nap? The issues are complex.

The location of the parked car may give prosecutors a basis to infer that a person operated the vehicle while under the influence. A running engine may infer that the car is under operation. Facts such as whether a person in a car has the keys to the vehicle may be important facts for review.

Drunk driving charges are pursued vigorously in New Jersey. A conviction for a DUI offense can have long-term consequences that exceed the penalties imposed in criminal court.

Source: The Jersey Journal, “Bayonne man falls asleep at the light, charged with a DWI,” Felix Alarcon, May 5, 2014