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Sleeping Man in Elf Suit Arrested for DWI

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on December 23, 2014 6:01 AM

A New Jersey man wearing an "Elf on the Shelf" costume was arrested for DWI after police officers found him passed out in a car.

About 3:30 a.m. Friday, Riverdale police say that officers responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle found 23-year-old Brian Chellis passed out behind the wheel of a Toyota van, reports NJ Advanced Media. The van was running, with the headlights on and music playing, according to police.

Despite being asleep when found by police, Chellis was issued a summons for driving while intoxicated. Can you really get a DWI while sleeping?

Drinking and Parking

Although DWI or driving while intoxicated (known as DUI or driving under the influence in other states) seems to imply the act of "driving," you don't necessarily have to be "on the road" in order to be charged with drunken driving. In many states, "driving" for purposes of DUI/DWI can include simply having the ability to do so, or simply having physical control of the vehicle.

State supreme courts have upheld DUI convictions against drivers who were asleep in stationary vehicles at the time of being "stopped" by police. These cases have included drivers who fell asleep with the car running; in at least one case, it involved a driver who fell asleep in the front seat with the car keys in his pocket.

New Jersey's DWI Laws

Under New Jersey's DWI laws, a person commits DWI when he or she "operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug."

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that, for purposes of DWI, a person operates a motor vehicle under the influence "when, in that condition, he enters a stationary vehicle, on a public highway or in a place devoted to public use, turns on the ignition, starts and maintains the motor in operation and remains in the driver's seat behind the steering wheel, with the intent to move the vehicle."

In this case, Chellis may be able to argue that he had not intended to move the vehicle. And he certainly has motivation to do so: If convicted of DWI, he could face up to 30 days' imprisonment, loss of his driver's license, and more than $1,000 in fines.

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