It seems like it could be a storyline out Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie, Minority Report: a Minnesota man was convicted of a DUI offense in a car that wasn’t moving. What’s even more surprising: the car wouldn’t start at all.
As it turns out, getting a bit tipsy and stumbling out of the house to sleep it off in the car may make you a felon. It happened to Daryl Fleck.
That he’d consumed about twelve beers is not in dispute. His felony conviction for drunk driving, even though his car was not running and legally parked, has earned him 48 months in custody and five years of probation.
It started one night in 2007, when when a neighbor at Fleck’s apartment complex alerted police, they found him sleeping in his car, with the driver’s side door still open.
Appealed all the way to the Minnesota Supreme Court, Fleck’s conviction was ultimately upheld, though not without testing the elasticity of interpretation. Fleck obviously shares a fondness for beer with many Americans, though his prior DUI offenses did not win friends on the jury.
In this instance, the keys to the car were in the center console, far from the ignition. The engine was cold, and Fleck hadn’t even been listening to the radio. Officers determined Fleck’s blood-alcohol level was .18, which may be more to blame for the conflicting reasons he gave to police when asked why he was at the car than any attempt at deceit.
Minnesota’s legal blood-alcohol limit is .08, and Fleck’s results were more than double that. Were he cruising sloppily past a sobriety checkpoint, the case would have been an unchallenged open-and-shut matter.
Instead, prior cases that convicted citizens of DUI on the grounds of an expanded interpretation of “physical control” were used as precedents.
For example, in a prior case, the meaning of “physical control” was stretched to include the possibility that a vehicle available to an intoxicated person could easily be pressed into service, irrespective of intent. Again, that would be a more straightforward precedent but for the fact that an officer’s attempt to start Fleck’s impounded car revealed that it wouldn’t run.
Despite the apparent incongruity with reason, Fleck’s conviction was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Has a menace been removed from the roads — and society, for that matter?
No doubt, someone with prior DUI convictions isn’t doing the public a service. Fleck shouldn’t have been near the car in his condition.
We only shudder to think of how far the notion of “physical control” extends before someone else decides the fate of the rest of our automotive experiences.