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Can you get a DWI in New Jersey when you aren’t even driving?

Most people know that driving while impaired (DWI) by alcohol is illegal, but did you know that you can actually be convicted of DWI just for sitting in your car while intoxicated?

It sounds strange to a lot of people, but New Jersey law is somewhat vague about what it means to “operate” a motor vehicle. People are arrested all the time for “operating” a motor vehicle that’s not in motion, and each charge has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

What situations can lead to a DWI arrest in a parked vehicle?

Commonly, these kinds of arrests happen when an officer notices that someone is sleeping in their car, and the exact circumstance surrounding the arrest can make a lot of difference in your case. For example:

  • You realized that you were too buzzed to drive after you left a bar, so you decided to call an Uber, but you wanted to wait inside your vehicle for your ride. Sticking the keys in the ignition and turning on the car so you can run the heat or the A/C while you wait could be enough to qualify as “operating” the vehicle for a DWI.
  • You were a mile away from a party when the last couple of drinks finally hit your system. You pulled over and turned off the car, and put your keys away. However, a passing police officer concludes that you must have driven to the location while impaired and arrests you.
  • You know you’re too inebriated to drive, but your buddy swears they are sober. You hand them your keys – and they get pulled over. Under New Jersey’s laws, you’re considered just as guilty as your friend of a DWI because you permitted someone who was intoxicated to drive your car.

DWI cases are often a lot more nuanced than they seem, and a skilled defense can often dismantle the prosecution’s case. Learning more about your rights and options can make it easier to decide how to proceed.



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