Here’s a scenario for you. You go to the bar, you have a drink or two too many. You go out to your car, realize that you’re too sloshed to drive, and throw the keys on the center console. You never start the car. You settle back to sleep off your binge, only to be awakened a while later by a police officer tap-tap-tapping on your window. He gets you out of the car, and slaps you with a DUI (Driving Under the Influence, also known as DWI – Driving While Intoxicated).
Did you deserve that charge? Should you be convicted of a DUI?
The Minnesota Supreme Court says yes. That’s what they said this week in a unanimous decision. According to the Court, Darryl Fleck was in “physical control” of the legally parked vehicle in which he was sleeping, even though the keys were not in the ignition, the vehicle was cold, and Fleck was asleep with the door of the vehicle open. This took place in the parking lot of Fleck’s apartment building. Later, when an officer attempted to start the vehicle, it would not start.
By this logic, every single person who is tailgating at a Vikings Game should be convicted of DUI. Everyone standing in a bar, with keys in a pocket or purse, should be convicted of a DUI. We could even take it further. How about convicting every gun or knife owner of murder? Because they might do it. They certainly have the tools. There is certainly opportunity. The keys are in the pockets, the knife is in hand, the gun is in the house.
Ok, so I’m stretching a little. But not all that much. In the words of Justice Alan C. Page:
“…a jury could reasonably find that Fleck, having been found intoxicated, alone, and sleeping behind the wheel of his own vehicle with the keys in the vehicle’s console, was in a position to exercise dominion or control over the vehicle and that he could, without too much difficulty, make the vehicle a source of danger,”
All those tailgaters, bar patrons, even the knife and gun owners are in “a position to exercise dominion or control” over their vehicle, or those potential weapons.
I listened to a discussion about this on the radio, and many of the callers were in favor of the conviction. After all, they were quick to point out, this was Fleck’s fourth DUI conviction, and it will put him behind bars for ten years. Got another drunk driver off the street. Good riddance, they said. Better they catch him now, than after he drove and killed someone, right?
Callous and evil as I am, I disagree. What if it wasn’t 3-time-loser Fleck in that car? What if it was some teenager who exercised restraint, and realized that, yeah, he was too drunk to drive, so he’d sleep it off in the car? Should he be convicted of the crime that he consciously chose NOT to risk committing? And if he should, why should anyone else make that decision? After all, if they’re gonna get busted anyway, why not just drive home? Chances are decent that they’ll make it there without killing themselves or anyone else.
It’s a slippery slope we try to walk when we say that a person might commit a crime, and therefore should be put in jail for that crime. Apparently, the Thought Police are alive and well.