In February of 2011, Michael J. Vargo was arrested for DUI in Florida while he was sitting in his truck eating a salad and drinking an Icehouse beer. Vargo admitted at his DUI trial that he had been too drunk to drive and after he was ordered out of his truck by police, he had to lean on it for support to stay upright.
While states differ when it comes to DUI laws, many agree that prosecutors only have to prove that someone had “physical control of the car” or the ability to drive the automobile to or from that location. It would seem that Vargo’s DUI was an open and shut case, but the police missed one important detail: the truck was inoperable.
At the DUI trial, Vargo and another witness said that the truck had been stuck in the parking lot for twelve hours since the starter gave out. Just after 1 a.m. a deputy saw keys sitting on Vargo’s lap, smelled alcohol in the vehicle and saw food on the floor and around Vargo.
Vargo refused all sobriety tests and would not take an alcohol breath test. The deputy did not, however, try to start the truck or feel the hood to see if it was warm and had recently been driven. Without that evidence the state could not disprove Vargo’s assertion that the truck was inoperable at the time. Vargo’s DUI attorney stated, “It is not against the law to sit in an inoperable car to eat a salad drunk.” It took the jury only five minutes to acquit Michael Vargo.
As previously stated, the Vargo case occurred in Florida. State laws regarding a DUI vary, but they generally agree that you can be charged with a DUI if you are observed having physical control of the vehicle. The term up for debate is “physical control.” In some states, simply having the keys in the ignition constitutes control. In other states, you need to be only sitting in the driver’s seat. In one case, “physical control” was stretched to include the possibility of a vehicle being available to an intoxicated person. It was decided that the vehicle could become a “source of danger.” In these cases, case law can be important.
The problem with this strict interpretation of the law concerning a DUI offense is the message it sends intoxicated patrons leaving the bar at closing time. Do you sit in your car and wait for the police to arrest you for DUI, or do you risk driving home hoping you can make it without getting caught?
It seems like we are punishing people for making the morally responsible decision to not endanger the lives of others. In 2010, a New Mexico Supreme Court decision overturned a DUI conviction without driving because they believe it discourages the public from sleeping off a night of drinking in their automobiles.
If you have been charged with DUI without driving, these cases present more than enough data for a DUI attorney to contest the legitimacy of the DUI arrest. By conferring with an experienced DUI attorney, you can become aware of your legal rights under your state DUI laws and hopefully mount a legitimate DUI defense to contest the DUI charges.
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