“Actual Physical Control” and DUIs in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania DUI laws are lengthy and complicated.  Understanding DUIs – and understanding the nuances of “actual physical control” is essential.  Without this understanding, you could be charged with a crime, even if you were trying to act responsibly.  This is where a DUI defense attorney can help.

A Brief Explanation of DUI Laws in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, it is against the law to either drive, operate, or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle:

  • After drinking to the point one cannot drive safely;
  • After drinking to the point one’s blood alcohol concentration is .08 or greater;
  • Where one has a Schedule I controlled substance in their system, or a Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substance in their system without a prescription; or
  • After consuming a combination of drugs and/or alcohol that impairs their ability to safely drive.

Understanding “Actual Physical Control”

Everyone knows what it means to drive a car.  But what does “actual physical control” mean?  This is a question that, some argue, has led to “splitting hairs.”  Is a person in physical control if they get in the back seat of the car with the car keys, with the intent to “sleep it off”?  Not in Pennsylvania, however this interpretation has led to a finding of physical control in other states. Different facts may change the result.  For example, what if the person is in the front seat of the car instead of the back seat?  What if the car is running and the person is in the front passenger seat?  Does the result change if the person is in the driver’s seat?

In Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court has adopted a totality of circumstances test to determine whether someone is in physical control. For example, if they find a car on the side of the highway, with a drunk person in it alone, the law allows for a presumption the person was in “actual physical control” of the car.  Of course, if the actual facts of the case include that your sober friend was driving you home, and you ran out of gas, and your friend left the car to go get gas, this presumption may be overcome.

Another subset of “actual physical control” involves conduct by someone not behind the wheel of a moving car. If, for example, you are a drunk passenger in a car being driven by another, and you reach across and yank on the steering wheel, thus exercising “actual physical control” for that moment, you may be guilty of DUI even though you are not in the driver’s seat.

If You Face DUI Charges

DUI charges involve many details and intricacies.  The facts of one case may support a DUI charge, while the facts of another may not.  If you face DUI charges, you don’t have to go into court alone.  Steven O’Meara is an experienced DUI defense attorney.  There are legitimate legal challenges that can be made in DUI cases.  However, it takes an experienced eye to examine the evidence, the source of the evidence, and the potential lack of reliability of the test results.  Contact the Law Office of Steven F. O’Meara to discuss the facts and circumstances of your case.