It is common knowledge that driving under the influence is strictly enforced throughout Pennsylvania. If you operate a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol, you can expect law enforcement officers to issue a DUI ticket if you are caught. A conviction on a DUI charge can range from substantial fines and loss of driving privileges to prison, ignition interlock devices, and other penalties. What some people may be surprised to learn is that they might face the same DUI penalties if they are convicted of a DUI charge that occurred in a Pennsylvania parking lot.
Proving You are Guilty of DUI Charges
The first step our Erie DUI defense team takes when handling a drunk driving charge or DUI ticket is to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding a DUI stop thoroughly. We take that step regardless of whether the DUI stop occurred in a parking lot, rural road, or busy city street. We want to determine if the prosecution has sufficient evidence to prove DUI charges, but we also want to determine if we have evidence to establish on or more valid defenses to the drunk driving charge.
The prosecution must prove all legal elements required to establish that you are guilty of driving under the influence before obtaining a guilty verdict for a DUI ticket. In most DUI cases, the prosecution must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle on a highway or traffic way while under the influence of alcohol.
Police officers focus on proving that the driver’s BAC (blood alcohol content) exceeded the legal limit of .08 for drunk driving. They also focus on other evidence from the DUI stop to prove that the driver’s ability to operate the motor vehicle was impaired, such as the results of standardized field sobriety tests.
Next, the state must prove that you were operating a motor vehicle on a highway or traffic way. However, what do the terms “operating” and “traffic way” encompass? What if you were sitting in a parking lot with the motor running or driving through a fast-food restaurant’s pick up window? Can you be arrested for DUI?
Broad Definitions of Trafficways and Operating Can Lead to Surprising DUI Arrests?
The courts have interpreted traffic ways to be roads or areas that are accessible to the public, including parking garages and parking lots. Therefore, you could be charged with DUI if the police determine you were intoxicated while driving in the parking lot, drive-thru lane, or public street.
Likewise, the courts have given a board definition to the meaning of “operating” within the DUI statutes. Driving is often defined as “operating a vehicle.” However, operating a vehicle may also apply to an individual who has actual physical control of the vehicle. Therefore, you do not need to be in a moving vehicle to be charged with DUI.
If you are sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked vehicle with the engine running, you might face a DUI charge. Likewise, if the engine is off, but the keys are in the ignition, you could be charged with drunk driving. If you can reasonably cause the vehicle to move, you are in control of the operation of the vehicle and may be charged with DUI if you are drunk.
In other words, if you pull over in a parking lot to “sober up,” you could be charged with DUI in certain cases. The specific DUI ticket may depend on the factors at the scene.
The statutes and case laws vary. Some parking lots or other private areas may not meet all the standards to be considered a traffic way. Likewise, the circumstances and facts of the case may prove that the individual charged with DUI was not “operating” or “in control” of the vehicle at the time of the arrest. It is important to allow an experienced Erie DUI attorney to investigate the matter and analyze current statutes and case law to determine if the arrest was legal.
Contact an Erie DUI Attorney Immediately if You Receive a DUI Ticket
Being charged with a DUI offense in Pennsylvania is not the same as being convicted of drunk driving. You are not guilty of DUI until the state proves each required legal element related to the DUI charge. Therefore, it is in your best interest to contact an Erie DUI attorney right now.
There could be one or more “holes” or weaknesses in the state’s case that you can use to have the DUI charge dismissed. If not, an experienced PA DUI attorney may leverage the weaknesses to reduce DUI charges or negotiate a more favorable plea deal. Until you meet with an experienced Northwestern Pennsylvania DUI attorney, you do not know what options you might have to resolve your drunk driving charge.
For more information about fighting DUI charges in Pennsylvania, schedule a free consultation with a member of The Travis Law Firm. Contact one of our helpful associates by calling (800) 401-2066 to request your free case review with an Erie DUI attorney.