Can you get a DUI in Tennessee without actually driving?

In Tennessee as in many states, people can be convicted of DUI not because they were actually driving, but because they were in physical control of a motor vehicle. This can potentially lead to some troubling cases.

For example, suppose an intoxicated person is found asleep in their car. They may very well have been trying to avoid driving drunk, but the fact that they were in the car could be taken as being in physical control. Wouldn't it be terrible to get a DUI when you had been trying to sleep it off?

Luckily, the question of whether a person was in actual physical control of a vehicle is a question of fact, and the state must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. In Tennessee, courts consider the totality of the circumstances to determine if an intoxicated person was in control of a vehicle. That means taking into account both direct and circumstantial evidence of all kinds. However, the courts typically take into account several specific factors:

  • Where the defendant was located in relation to the motor vehicle
  • Where the ignition key was located
  • Whether the engine was running
  • Aside from their intoxication, the defendant's general ability to direct the use of the vehicle
  • Whether or not the vehicle was technically drivable

Consider this scenario: An intoxicated person falls asleep in the driver's seat with the key in the ignition and the engine running. The car is in good repair and, to drive, the person would only need to wake up and put the car in gear. If those facts were proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a court would probably find the person was in physical control of the vehicle.

On the other hand, suppose the intoxicated person turned off the car, put the keys in a pocket and went to sleep in the back seat. Even if the car was drivable, a court might find that the person was not in physical control of the vehicle.

Furthermore, if an intoxicated person were found asleep in the back of a car that was disabled and up on blocks, a court would be unlikely to find that the person was in physical control of the vehicle.

If you're arrested for DUI in Tennessee, you should know that there are many factors that could affect whether you are convicted. You should contact an attorney right away to discuss possible defenses.

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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