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Understand the Strict Law that applies to lawfully “sleeping it off” and avoiding a DUI in Maryland

Understand the Strict Law that applies to lawfully “sleeping it off” and avoiding a DUI in Maryland

Have you ever made the intelligent decision after leaving a bar or a friends place that you may have had too many drinks to drive safely? What to do next? The intelligent thought would be to find a place to park and sleep it off.

However, despite the good thinking, from a legal perspective you must be careful. Maryland law is unfortunately strict about what counts as legally “sleeping it off” v. what counts as “physical control” and thereby exposing you to a DUI/DWI. The controlling case in Maryland speaking to the shelter doctrine is Atkinson. The Court in Atkinson determined they did not desire to punish a Maryland driver who knew he should not be driving and made the safe choice to sleep it off.

The problem is that the Court implemented so many requirements in order to be on right side of the law that most people do not do it correctly and therefore wind up getting prosecuted for DUI despite trying to do the right thing.

Atkinson Factors to be considered at your DUI trial:

  • Are the keys in the ignition?
  • Is the car on?
  • Is the driver asleep?
  • Is the hood warm?
  • Is the driver in the driver’s seat?
  • Is the driver’s seat reclined?
  • Is the car in a defined/legal parking space?
  • Is the car in park?

These are just a few of the factors that a trial Judge will consider when deciding if you were in physical control of your car and therefore possibly guilty DUI or whether you were lawfully seeking shelter. Not one or all of these factors must be answered true in order to find that you fit in this exception. The Judge will look at all of these factors when determining whether you complied with the law.

You will see experienced law enforcement officers focusing on these specific factors in their police report. They know the law and will try to write their report to exclude this defense. What the Judge has to decide is whether you actually had “legal” physical control over the vehicle. If the judge finds that you were in “legal control of the vehicle” then you have the same exposure as any regular DUI.

Therefore, the answer to the question of “Can I be arrested and Charged with DUI if they didn’t see me drive?” is yes, you can be charged with and go to jail for a DUI even if you are not seen driving the vehicle. If you find yourself driving and you determine that you shouldn’t be driving, then these are the factors for you to know. Mainly it is important to find a lawful parking space off the roadway and turn the car off, remove the keys. The safest thing to do would be to move to the passenger side or back seat and sleep it off. If you do all that, you are probably in a good position in the eyes of the law.