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Criminal Nuggets

Jul 31, 2014

Sleeping behind the wheel leads to DUI and 8 years.

State proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant was in “actual physical control” of his car. The car was poorly parked and had  an open door.

People v. Morris, 1st Dist., 07/23/2014.


Chicago police found Defendant passed out in the front seat of a parked car, the ignition off, the driver’s side door open, and keys in his right hand. It was 2 a.m.

Police did not see defendant drive. A bag of groceries sat on the curb. Police woke him up and he reeked of alcohol. He failed field sobriety tests and the police believed he was highly intoxicated.

Defendant’s witness said that she drove the car to the store. She could not carry the groceries because she was carrying beer and whiskey. She said she gave the keys to defendant so he could go get the groceries which she left in the front passenger seat. She went to bed and didn’t realize defendant had not come back.

Defendant was convicted of aggravated DUI (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2)) and felony driving while license suspended ((625 ILCS 5/6-303(a)). 8 years in prison was the sentence because defendant was sentenced as a class X Felony! This was not his first time at the rodeo. He had two prior felony DUIs, a class 1 delivery of a controlled substance, a Class 2 burglary and 18 prior driving while license suspended charges.

Yea, thats a lot.


Defendant claims that the State did not prove he was in was in “actual physical control” of the car.

The Code

The DUI section 11-501(a) (2) of the Illinois Criminal Code provides that an individual “shall not drive or be in actual physical control of any vehicle within this State while under the influence of alcohol.” 625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(2).

It is well settled that “a person need not drive to be in actual physical control of a vehicle, nor is the person’s intent to put the car in motion relevant to the determination of actual physical control.”

The issue of actual physical control is determined on a case-by-case basis, giving consideration to whether the defendant:

(1) possessed the ignition key; 
(2) had the physical capability to operate the vehicle;
(3) was sitting in the driver’s seat; and
(4) was alone with the doors locked.

These factors provide a guideline to determine whether the defendant had actual physical control of the vehicle; the list is neither exhaustive, nor is the absence of one individual factor controlling.

Reasoning for Conviction

Who knows if he was driving, but he was in actual physical control. The judge did not believe his witness. But even the witness was telling the truth, Defendant would have still been guilty.

We don’t know if  Defendant was alone in the car. Yet, it was the driver’s side door that was open. Under these circumstances, Defendant could have easily woken up, closed the door, and driven away because the keys were in his hand.

A rational trier of fact could find that Defendant, alone in the driver’s seat with keys in his right hand, was in actual physical control of the car.

Other cases have lead to convictions with far less “control”.  See People v. Davis, 205 Ill. App. 3d 431, 435 (1990) (defendant found sleeping in backseat with keys in ignition).

But This Defendant Didn’t Know Sleeping Behind the Wheel Was a DUI

Defendant argued that he could not reasonably know that he could be committing a DUI just for being passed out in the driver’s seat with the keys in his hand and the driver’s side door open.

The court disagreed. Although he may have not actually have known that his conduct constituted actual physical control, ignorance of the law has long been rejected as a defense.

The case law establishes that to prevent someone from making the decision to drive a vehicle while lacking clarity of thought due to alcohol consumption, a defendant will be deemed to be in actual physical control when he or she “is behind the steering wheel in the driver’s seat with the ignition key and physically capable of starting the engine and moving the vehicle.”

Although Morris may not have been aware that his conduct might be illegal, that alone does not render the statute unconstitutionally vague. He was guilty.