Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is against the law in California. While most people are aware of the laws against drunk driving, few understand how complex this area of law is. The vast majority of the time, California DUI cases are not as straightforward as they may seem. One of the most misunderstood aspects of California DUI law is the operation element.
Before a judge or jury can find you guilty of a DUI crime, the government must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were “driving” the vehicle. This is referred to as the operation element. In most states, prosecutors can meet the operation element of a DUI by showing that the defendant exercised physical control over the vehicle. However, in California, the law is slightly more favorable to defendants. To be found guilty of a California DUI, the prosecution must prove that you intentionally caused the vehicle to move by exercising physical control over it. Thus, if the vehicle didn’t move, you are not guilty of DUI.
That said, when referring to “movement,” any movement of the vehicle, however slight, qualifies as driving. Additionally, police officers can rely on circumstantial evidence to illustrate that a car had moved, even if they didn’t witness the car moving. For example, say that police officers respond to a call for a single-vehicle traffic accident. When the police arrive, they find a car wrapped around a utility pole. The driver is the only person inside the car, and there is a half-full bottle of whiskey on the driver’s side floorboard. In this situation, police officers would almost certainly arrest the driver for DUI, even though they didn’t observe the car moving. In doing so, they would rely on the following:
- There was only one person in the car; and
- The car had been in an accident.
In this situation, the circumstantial evidence suggests that the person found in the driver’s seat intentionally caused the vehicle to move by exercising physical control over the vehicle. While there is the possibility that someone switched seats with the driver, that is a defense that must be raised at trial. Continue reading ›