Real Live Minority Report

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.

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9 Responses to Real Live Minority Report

  1. Joy says:

    A slippery slope indeed. Why did it happen to be in Minnesota?? I agree with you. You can’t ever know what someone “may” do and it may seem a good idea to take a man like Fleck off the road but maybe the better answer would be to change the laws of DWI’s and not keep giving people back their drivers licenses back so readily when they get a drunk driving charge.

    I find this story full of “what ifs” but “what if” someone was giving someone a ride home, a designated driver and they stop to fill up with gas and the person inside is asleep, would he get a ticket then if the keys were in the “vicinity” of the car? It says that keys just about anywhere “near the car” would warrant this. NO!!

    I think this is just way too general and I think we’d be better off making the penalty of drunk driving more severe. Somebody who’s just sleeping it off???, I don’t think so.

  2. SKL says:

    I agree with you – sleeping in your own car with your keys at hand (duh, where else are your keys going to be) in no way equals drunk driving. I think maybe the jury got emotional because this guy had done it 3 times before and probably only got a slap on the hand. I also thought, yeah, the car wouldn’t start, but if it would, how do we know this guy wouldn’t have started it and drove off? And how do we know he didn’t drive around, then park and fall asleep? But those aren’t the facts that the court had to work with, so I believe the court was probably wrong – except that if the state statute actually says you can’t be in your own car with the keys drunk, they may be right.

    I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of “anti-personal liberty” laws, but apparently they can tell you that you can’t have a loaded gun in your car, you can’t have an “open container” in your car, etc., even though having those in your car is no proof that you were going to actually do anything with them. I am not willing to take up the argument of whether or not it is constitutional if the law actually says this. I’d be fighting a losing battle. But these laws do bug me. I mean, I don’t drink alcohol in the first place, so if my mom wants to drink a beer in the backseat of my car, what’s anyone’s problem? The world is full of laws that punish the innocent majority in the hopes of stopping a few idiots.

    What really bugs me are cases where moms get in serious trouble and even lose their kids just because they were basically unlucky. Like, their toddler figures out how to unlock the door and sneaks out in the wee hours when everyone is sleeping. Because this happened when my kid sister was just a year old, I may have an unusual perspective on this. But the point is, juries and the general public seem to always be ready to make someone a villain. They aren’t generally good at seeing things from the other side. So it is not unusual to witness a miscarriage of justice. The only thing we can do is just stay as far on this side of the line as possible. Don’t leave it to chance or trust in the goodness of our fellow man when we find ourselves on the edge of legal trouble.

  3. shane says:

    This is just another example of big brother at it’s best and another way to make more money$$$ I think it’s just ridiculus, how the hell are you going to punish someone for making a good decision?? Pretty soon they will be arresting people for wandering around in a store for a hour or so as a shoplifter. They will say well gee if he or she was going to buy something they already would have. They must be planning on stealing. Or like you said, he owns a gun so let’s charge him with attempted murder beacause he could of attempted to kil someone. Pretty soon we won’t have any rights at all!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Lucy says:

    I totally agree that its a slippery slope. I also feel its wrong to punish those people who are actually making good choices and not driving drunk. More importantly, if this is going to be the law. they have to advertise it and make sure that individuals are aware that sleeping in the driver seat while drunk is illegal!!! On the other hand.. why would you sleep in the driver seat… the passanger seat or the back seat sounds much more comfortable to me 🙂

  5. Nikki says:

    Hmmm lots of what ifs here. I don’t know that there is a correct answer here. What if he did drive when he woke up and was till intoxicated? What if he wasn’t? I guess it lies in the hand of the officer to make their better judgment. In any case, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
    Laws are too general. However you can’t go back and put the what if’s under each law. All lies on personal responsibility.

  6. Tessa says:

    I can see your points, but I think they are slapped with a DUI because how does the cop know for sure they did not drive while intoxicated? If a man or woman is in the drivers seat, with the keys near by, and is drunk-he or she possibly was thinking about putting others at risk or actually did… I agree with the law. If you are drunk, or over the limit, do not even sit in the drivers seat-bad decision. Have I done it? Yes and it was a bad decision! If I got a DUI I would have deserved it. It is just irresponsible and that law is well known.

  7. Katie says:

    This reminds me of a joke that I read somewhere – probably Reader’s Digest at some point. Anyway, here we go:

    Judy and her husband Bill took a weekend getaway to a nearby lake. Bill loved to fish, so naturally he got up early and went out in his boat to do that. He came back in later that afternoon and decided to take a nap. While he was sleeping, Judy took his fishing boat out onto the lake and began reading a book. She wasn’t really paying attention to where she was drifting, so she was a bit surprised when a police officer came up to her on a motorboat.
    “Is there a problem, officer?” She asked.
    “Well ma’am,” he replied. “This is a restricted fishing area.”
    “But I’m not fishing,” She objected. “I’m just reading my book.”
    “But you have all the equipment,” the officer said, pointing to Bill’s fishing pole and tackle box. “I’m going to have to write you a ticket.”
    “Fine.” Judy said. “But I’ll be charging you with sexual harassment.”
    “What?!” He cried. “I haven’t touched you!”
    “True, but you have all the equipment.”

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