In 2007, a Minnesota man was arrested after police found him asleep at the wheel of his car, parked in his designated spot in front of his own apartment building. According to the Star Tribune, Daryl Fleck was drunk, and he was subsequently charged with driving under the influence.
Recently, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld a jury’s drunk driving conviction of Fleck. The court determined that there was enough evidence for the jury to conclude that Fleck was in control of his vehicle when he was arrested.
Fleck’s conviction was his fourth for DUI, and he was sentenced to four years in prison. The conviction had already passed through the state’s Court of Appeals, which affirmed the conviction and paved the way for the state Supreme Court appeal.
G. Tony Atwal, Fleck’s appellate lawyer, did not agree with the court’s decision to uphold the conviction. He told the Star Tribune, “Presumably, if you’re in or about your car, the county attorney could now charge you with a physical control DWI.”
Atwal explained his decision to pursue the various appeals because there was not evidence to suggest that Fleck had actually driven the vehicle that he was found in. According to Atwal, the car’s engine was cold to the touch, and a police officer wasn’t able to start it at all.
Atwall also noted that the fact that the car was parked in a parking lot near Fleck’s home made a great deal of difference. Had it been parked by the side of the road, for example, the situation would change.
According to the Star Tribune, the Supreme Court did not agree. The decision handed down read, “Mere presence in or about a vehicle is insufficient to show physical control; it is the overall situation that is determinative.”
The decision, written by Justice Alan Page, did acknowledge that the circumstances of this situation were not typical of the more common “physical control” drunk driving cases.
The “physical control of a motor vehicle” law is intended to prevent drunk people from getting in a position to operate a motor vehicle, but rather to enter vehicles only as passengers.