Supreme Court of Virginia: Man Properly Convicted of DUI After Being Found Drunk in Parked Car on Private Driveway
Just recently, in a 4-3 decision, the Supreme Court of Virginia held a Charlottesville man was properly convicted of DUI after he was found asleep in his parked car with the radio on in his private driveway. The decision, in this case, Sarafin v. Commonwealth, has flabbergasted the public by what it “considers a new legal absurdity”—drinking while listening to your car radio in a private driveway is illegal and can result in a DUI conviction. The Court based its decision on rules of statutory construction for interpreting the General Assembly’s statute. The Court stated, “when the General Assembly has used specific language in one instance, but omits that language or uses different language when addressing a similar subject elsewhere in the code, we must presume that the difference in the choice of language was intentional.”
Virginia’s DUI statute does not require that an operator of a motor vehicle be “on a highway,” however, the Virginia legislature’s definition of “operator” is defined as “every person who either (1) drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on a highway or (2) is exercising control over or steering a vehicle being towed by a motor vehicle.” The Court declined to interpret the DUI statute as requiring an operator of a motor vehicle is “on a highway.” The Court’s reason for this is that if they interpreted the DUI statute to include “on a highway,” it would render the DUI statute for operating trains under the influence of alcohol meaningless since trains do not operate “on a highway.”
Additionally, the General Assembly amended the DUI statute to prohibit the operation of “mopeds…on the public highways of this Commonwealth” while the operator is intoxicated. However, since the statute for motor vehicles still does not include “on a highway,” the Court said the General Assembly “must have meant to differentiate the two.”
Furthermore, the Court’s holding, in this case, is not consistent with its decision in Enriquez v. Commonwealth in 2012. In that case, the Court stated that, “when an intoxicated person is seated behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle on a public highway and the key is in the ignition switch, he is in actual physical control of the vehicle and, therefore, is guilty of operating the vehicle under the influence of alcohol” within Virginia’s DUI statute. Now, the Supreme Court of Virginia is interpreting the DUI statute in a way that punishes a person for merely occupying a motor vehicle.
If you, a family member or someone you know has been convicted of driving under the influence or if you would like more information on DUI and DWI, please visit us on our website.