Sleeping in Car with Engine Running Sufficient for DWI & Refusal Convictions

On February 10, 2020, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued a published decision in State v. John Thompson upholding the defendant’s convictions for operating a vehicle while under the influence (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a)) and refusal to submit to a breath test (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2).

In this case, the defendant was sleeping in his car in a parking lot in Wanaque with the engine running. The police alleged that they observed prescription bottles in the car and smelled the odor of alcohol. The defendant admitted to drinking and that he was prescribed certain drugs by his doctor. He was found guilty at trial by the municipal court and the Passaic County Superior Court agreed.

He appealed to the Appellate Division which upheld the convictions as well. The Appellate Division wrote that the statute does not use the term “driving,” but instead uses the term “operation.” In another precedential case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled “a defendant’s intent to operate a motor vehicle” can satisfy the requirement of the offense. State v. Tischio, 107 N.J. 504, 513 (1987).

However, the New Jersey Supreme Court decision in State v. Daly, 64 N.J. 122 (1973) should also be noted. In that case, the Court upheld the reversal of the defendant’s drunk driving conviction. The defendant was found in the parking lot of a tavern reclining in his car. When he was arrested, the tavern was closed and the defendant claimed that he turned the engine on to keep himself warm and that he would drive home later. The Court ruled that the defendant’s actions did not prove operation for purposes of violating N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a).

If you have been charged with a DWI/DUI or related offense, do not make the mistake of assuming that you should just plead guilty. It is important have an attorney dedicated to DWI/DUI defense review and analyze your case for possible defenses since all cases are not the same. Call Jason T. Komninos, Esq. at (201) 343-4622 to schedule a consultation.

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