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Pennsylvania Court Affirms DUI Conviction Even Though the Defendant was not Driving at the Time of His Arrest

The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle code prohibits drivers from operating, driving, or exercising physical control over a car if they have consumed an amount of alcohol that renders them incapable of doing so safely. Many people assume that if you do not drive a car while intoxicated you cannot be charged with or convicted of a DUI. This is not true, however, as illustrated in Commonwealth v. Winowitch, a recent case in which the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a DUI conviction where the defendant was not actually driving at the time of his arrest. The court here found that the circumstantial evidence was sufficient to indicate he was exercising control over his car. If you were charged with a DUI, it is in your best interest to retain an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney to help you formulate a strong defense to the charges against you.

Facts Surrounding the Defendant’s Arrest

Allegedly, the arresting officer observed the defendant slumped over asleep in the driver’s seat of his car in a parking lot. The car’s dashboard lights were on and the keys were in the ignition and turned to on, but the engine was off and the car was in park. The officer knocked on the car window until the defendant awoke. The officer then reached across the car to remove the keys from the ignition when the defendant removed the key and tossed it onto the passenger seat. The defendant then denied that that key was in the ignition.  The defendant submitted to a field sobriety test, which he failed. He was charged with a DUI and other offenses.

At trial, the defendant stipulated that two hours prior to when the officer approached him, he made a cash withdrawal from an ATM within a bar that was nearby his parked car. The defendant’s counsel argued that because his car was not on when the officer approached him, the defendant was not exercising physical control over the movement of the car and therefore could not be convicted of DUI. The court rejected this argument, and the defendant was convicted of DUI and the other charges against him. He subsequently appealed. On appeal, his conviction was affirmed.

Evidence Needed to Show DUI

On appeal, the court noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had found that a defendant was exercising “actual physical control” over a car under the DUI statute in myriad circumstances which did not involve the defendant driving the car, or the car’s engine being on. In the subject case, the trial court found that the circumstantial evidence demonstrated that sometime before the arresting officer arrived at the scene, the defendant had driven the car. The appellate court stated that the state could show a defendant’s actual physical control over a vehicle through solely circumstantial evidence. As such, the court found an insufficient basis to overturn the defendant’s conviction.

Meet with an Experienced Pennsylvania DUI Attorney

If you face DUI charges, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania DUI attorney as soon as possible to assist you in formulating a defense. Zachary B. Cooper is a skilled DUI defense attorney who will work diligently to help you retain your rights. Contact him at (215) 542-0800 to set up a meeting.

More Blog Posts:

Circumstantial Evidence Provides Sufficient Grounds to Charge a Suspect with DUI Under Pennsylvania Law Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, July 12, 2018

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects Constitutionality Challenge to DUI Statute Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, May 1, 2017

Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rejects DUI Appellant’s Argument That He Was Merely Sleeping in Car Pennsylvania DUI Lawyers Blog, February 16, 2017