A person can be convicted of DWI under Minnesota law if he or she is driving, operating, or in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance or alcohol. Cases involving the operation or driving of a motor vehicle are relatively straightforward. Physical control cases are significantly more complicated.

What does it mean to have “physical control” of a motor vehicle?

In Minnesota, it is difficult to determine whether an individual is in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. However, as a general rule, a court will consider all relevant circumstances when determining whether a person has the ability to exercise command or control over the vehicle.

A person has physical control of a vehicle if he or she has the ability to initiate any movement of the vehicle and is in close proximity to the vehicle’s operating controls. In making their decision, judges frequently consider the purpose of criminalizing physical control, which is to deter intoxicated individuals from entering vehicles other than as passengers and to act as a preventative measure to enable the arrest of intoxicated drivers before they get behind the wheel.

Over the years, Minnesota courts have articulated a number of factors relevant to determining whether a person is in physical control of a motor vehicle. For instance, courts consider: • the location of the person in or around the vehicle; • the location of the ignition keys; • whether the person was a passenger in the vehicle before it came to rest; • who owned the vehicle; and • the extent to which the vehicle was inoperable and, if inoperable, whether it could have been rendered operable and posed a threat to others.

The Takeaway

So, what should we conclude from this? To begin with, a person should be aware that Minnesota’s DWI law encompasses more than driving under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance; it also encompasses behavior indicating physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence.

If you have consumed alcohol or controlled substances, your best bet is to stay away from the driver’s seat and take care to avoid exercising control over the vehicle. You should also be aware that using a vehicle as a bed is not optimal because physical control can still be obtained. Courts typically find no evidence of physical control when a vehicle is used as a bed on private property, as opposed to public property.

This is not, however, an absolute rule. The courts in Minnesota will consider all relevant factors before rendering a verdict. It is also important to note that a passenger can take control of a motor vehicle if he or she takes the necessary steps.
Physical control cases are heavily fact-based. If you have been arrested or charged with DWI in a situation involving physical control, you should hire an attorney to represent you in court.

Ambrose Law is an expert in DWI law. Call or email for a complimentary consultation. Contact the law firm as soon as possible following a DWI arrest, as the deadlines in these cases are short.

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