Court overturns 'parked while intoxicated' Drunken Fla. man was sleeping in car

July 22, 1993|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

In Maryland, there's no such crime as "parked while intoxicated." That was the ruling of the state's highest court, which overturned yesterday the conviction of a man found in a drunken slumber in a vehicle off a Harford County road.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that an intoxicated person sitting in a parked auto cannot be convicted of drunken driving when not in control of the vehicle.

The court threw out the conviction of Boyce C. Atkinson of Bunnell, Fla., who was arrested by a Harford County sheriff's deputy and charged with driving under the influence on March 7, 1992. Mr. Atkinson's Jeep was parked on the shoulder of U.S. 40 near Abingdon Road.

Mr. Atkinson was asleep in his vehicle, with the key in the ignition. The deputy woke Mr. Atkinson and determined that he was intoxicated after listening to his slurred speech, observing that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy and smelling alcohol on his breath.

Mr. Atkinson's lawyer, Robert L. Miller of Bel Air, said those facts did not prove a DUI violation. His client was intoxicated, the lawyer said, but was not in control of the vehicle.

"The courts and the legislature should encourage people to pull to the side of the road and stop when they feel they're becoming a danger," Mr. Miller said yesterday, welcoming the ruling.

But the ruling wasn't welcomed by Maryland State Police.

"The ruling may indeed pose problems to law enforcement officers in combating the drunken driver," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a state police spokesman.

Mr. Sipes felt that intoxicated drivers who pull over are not always trying to sober up.

"It is not unusual for troopers or other law enforcement officers to encounter drivers asleep at the wheel. It has also been a common experience for officers that the person had no intention seeking help and . . . had every intention of continuing to drive [while drunk]," Mr. Sipes said.

The court's opinion, written by Judge Howard S. Chasanow, said the state's drunken-driving laws sought to prevent intoxicated people from posing dangerous risks with their vehicles.

"We do not believe the legislature meant to forbid those intoxicated individuals who emerge from a tavern at closing time on a cold winter night from merely entering their vehicles to seek shelter while they sleep off the effects of alcohol," Judge Chasanow wrote.

The opinion listed six factors that may be considered to determine whether an intoxicated person is in control of a vehicle -- whether the engine is running; the person's position in the vehicle; whether the person is awake; the location of the ignition key; whether headlights are on; and whether the vehicle is legally parked.

Judge Chasanow said that although Mr. Atkinson was in the driver's seat of his vehicle and the keys in the ignition, there was reasonable doubt that he was in control because the auto was parked legally, the ignition was off and he was asleep.

Diane E. Keller, an assistant attorney general who had asked the court to uphold the conviction, would not comment. But she said evidence proved Mr. Atkinson had violated drunken-driving laws.

"You could infer that he had been driving before he stopped," Ms. Keller said. "We argued that the purpose of drunk-driving laws was to prevent intoxicated people from getting into the car in the first place."

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