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Can Sleeping in Your Car Lead to a DUI Arrest in CA?


Rather than drive home while under the influence, it is not uncommon for some people to take a quick nap in their vehicle until they are sober enough to drive. However, it is possible “sleeping it off” in a car could result in a DUI arrest in California, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

If you are found asleep in your vehicle, the police can investigate to see if you need help. If they have probable cause to believe you are impaired, they may conduct a search or even have you perform a preliminary breath test.

To be convicted of a DUI in California, there must be proof of “volitional movement,” meaning that you must have driven the car before falling asleep behind the wheel. On the other hand, simply sleeping or sitting in your vehicle will not lead to a DUI arrest.

Yet, if a person is found asleep in his/her vehicle, law enforcement officials can prove volitional movement based on circumstantial evidence. This also applies to DUI cases involving car accidents in which there are no witnesses.

Common examples of circumstantial evidence include:

  • The engine is running
  • The hood or tires are warm
  • Fresh tire marks on the road
  • The vehicle is in drive
  • The keys are in the ignition
  • The vehicle is parked on the side of the road

If there is no circumstantial evidence to prove you moved the vehicle before falling asleep, then you cannot be charged with a DUI. However, especially if you are parked in a public place, you could be charged with public intoxication, which is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum jail term of six months and/or a fine of up to $1,000.

At the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C., we advise you to avoid this situation entirely by calling a sober friend to pick you up or request a ride using the Uber or Lyft app. But if you do find yourself feeling tired before driving, sleep in the backseat and put your keys far away from the ignition to prove that you didn’t drive at all before falling asleep.

If you have been arrested for a DUI in Santa Rosa, call the Law Offices of Evan E. Zelig, P.C. at (707) 418-5352 or fill out our online contact form today to request a free consultation.