Can I Be Convicted of DWI and Refusal For Sleeping in My Car?

A defendant who was sleeping in his car with the engine running was convicted of 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).  If you are charged with DWI or Refusal, the Law Office of Jason T. Komninos can help.

On February 10, 2020, the New Jersey Appellate Division issued a published decision in State v. John Thompson upholding the defendant’s convictions.

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).

The outcome of your case can depend on the particular facts of your arrest. The Law Office can review your case to determine how to defend you in court.

If you have been charged with a drunk driving offense in New Jersey, you should retain an attorney to protect your rights. Call 201-343-4622 to schedule a consultation.