Everyone knows that DUI stands for “driving while intoxicated.” In other words, you can drive, you can drink alcohol, but you cannot drive after drinking alcohol. But a recent decision by the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, tells us not to take the “driving” part of DUI so literally.

Sleeping in his parked car

The underlying case involves a man whom police discovered in his vehicle at a convenience store parking lot. The man was asleep and, after officers awoke him, said he had been sleeping for about 40 minutes. Police said that the man legally possessed several prescription drugs in the vehicle. They also claimed that he smelled of alcohol, and arrested him for DUI — even though the man had not been driving when officers noticed him or detained him in the parking lot.

After being convicted of DUI, the man appealed on the basis that sleeping in the driver’s seat of a vehicle does not qualify as drinking and driving under New Jersey law.

‘Intent,’ sitting in running car enough for a conviction

The state supreme court has previously ruled that a conviction for DUI is proper if an individual is arrested while showing “intent” to drive while intoxicated. In their decision for this case, the court of appeals noted that a previous conviction was upheld against a woman who had not even found her car in a parking lot when she was arrested.

The judges also said the state DUI law never actually mentions the word “driving,” but instead makes it illegal to “operate” a vehicle while under the influence. The appellate court interpreted the operation of a motor vehicle broadly to include “sitting or sleeping in a vehicle, with the engine running.” Therefore, the man’s conviction was proper, even though his vehicle was not in motion when the police arrived, the court ruled.

With such a broad interpretation of what drinking and driving means in New Jersey, you must get sound legal advice as soon as possible following a DUI arrest. You have rights, and it may be possible to keep a DUI conviction off your record.