Convictions for DWI and DWAI in New York Require Proof of Operation

by Seth Azria on 11/29/2015

The meaning of a word as used in the law often differs from the common meaning. This applies to the element of a DWI or DWI case that requires proof that the driver was “operating” a vehicle.

“Operating” a motor vehicle for purposes of the DWI law, courts have noted, is broader than the ordinary definition. One such difference is that operation includes an attempt to put a vehicle in motion without actually moving it from one location to another. So the fact that the vehicle was stationary will not, in and of itself,  necessarily defeat a DWI charge.

In the following cases, the court found that the driver has operated a vehicle under the NY DWI laws:

  • A driver attempted to start his car 6 times but the car did not move, the court found that the driver had “operated” the car under the DWI Law. People v Domagala, 123 Misc 757 (1924).
  • A driver fell was observed asleep behind the wheel with the engine the engine running in a remote area. To establish that the driver had "operated" the car the jury was permitted to infer that the driver had started the car with an intent to go home. People v Marriott, 37 AD2d 868 [3rd Dept 1971]
  • Witnessed observed headlights that appeared to brighten as they approached their driveway. Police later discovered the driver slumped behind the wheel with the motor running. People v Collins, 70 AD2d 986 [3rd Dept 1979].

On the other hand, courts have found that a driver did not “operate” a vehicle where evidence established that the driver started the vehicle solely for the purpose of keeping warm or for shelter and not with the intent to move the vehicle. People v Dymond, 158 Misc 2d 677 [1993].

Applying the DWI law requires a discriminating eye for fine distinctions about what may or may not fit within a definition unique to the law. This takes experience and practice. Please feel free to email or call us to schedule a free consultation with one of our DWI lawyers to review the specific facts your case.





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