Can You Get a DUI if Your Car Keys Aren’t in the Car? (VC 23152)
December 14, 2016

You and your friends are going out to a bar. You know you are going to drink, but you do not want to take a chance on getting arrested for DUI. You decide to play it safe by giving your friend your car keys so that you will not be able to drive.

As your night ends, you decide you don’t want to leave your car alone in a parking lot overnight, so you want to sleep inside of it. Your friends put you in your car and you fall asleep. The next thing you know, a police officer is knocking on your window to investigate whether you were driving under the influence of alcohol. Can you be charged with a DUI even though you never drove the vehicle?

Circumstantial Evidence Can Support a DUI Case

Under California Vehicle Code Section 23152(a), it is “unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage to drive a vehicle.” The key word in this law is “drive.” What act does the law consider to be driving a vehicle?

Under a ruling in Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles, in order for you to be convicted of DUI, the prosecution must prove that you acted to cause an intentional movement of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.1 The law does not require that the officer actually sees you move your car in order to arrest you. Law enforcement can prove that you moved your vehicle through circumstantial evidence.

For example, if you are in the driver’s seat of your vehicle with your seatbelt fastened and the engine is either running or still warm, this may be enough to show that it is probable that your vehicle was moved recently. If the keys are in the ignition, this may be enough evidence to support a conviction for DUI. But what if the keys were not in the ignition? What if they were not in the car at all?

Can You Face DUI Charges if the Keys Weren’t in Your Vehicle?

If you fell asleep in your vehicle, you could be arrested for DUI. If your car keys are in the car with you, it is possible that officers will consider this evidence that you moved your vehicle. However, prosecutors are not likely to pursue charges unless there is some additional evidence that you moved your vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

What if your keys were not in the car at all? In this case, it is unlikely that the district attorney will be able to prove that you moved your vehicle unless there is some other evidence against you. Therefore, it is unlikely that charges will be filed against you if your car keys were not in the car with you when you were arrested for DUI.

Contact the DUI Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

Recent reports suggest a first-time DUI conviction in California could cost you a total of $16,000 or more. That is why you should consider hiring an experienced attorney to help you if you are accused of DUI. At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled DUI attorneys have been successfully defending clients in DUI cases for over 35 years. Let us help you now.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich DUI defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. See Mercer v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 53 Cal 3d. 753 (1991); see also People v. Nelson, 200 Cal. App. 4th 1083 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 2011). href=”#ref1″>↩

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