Some interesting cases on “operation of a motor vehicle” and DWI charges

Here are a few interesting cases concerning “operation of a motor vehicle” in the context of drunk driving charges in New Jersey. In State v. Morris, 262 N.J. Super 413 (1993), the Appellate Division held that a defendant’s attempt to start the engine of his car, which was thwarted when a police officer grabbed the keys from his hand, demonstrated an intent to operate the vehicle. The possibility of the vehicle being put in motion coupled with the defendant’s intent to start the engine was sufficient evidence to constitute operation within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50(a).

In State v. George, 257 N.J. Super. 493 (1992), the court held that “Operation may be proved by any direct or circumstantial evidence–as long as it is competent and meets the requisite standards of proof. The vehicle’s operating condition combined with defendant’s presence behind the steering wheel permits the logical conclusion of intent to drive.” This is an Appellate Division case that conflicts slightly with State v. Daly, 64 N.J. 122 (1973), which is a New Jersey Supreme Court case that found the State failed to meet the burden of proof for operation when the defendant was sleeping behind the wheel of his car with the engine running. There must be some additional evidence of intent to drive or move the vehicle beyond merely being behind the steering wheel with the engine running. Clearly these issues turn on the specific facts of your individual case.

Finally, in State v. Dannemiller, 229 N.J. Super 187 (1988), the Appellate Division held that “It was reasonable for the trier of fact to conclude that defendant had actually operated the vehicle. Defendant himself stated that he had been in Philadelphia in the early evening and that his vehicle remained parked on the roadway because he had run out of gas. There were no other persons in the area; defendant was in the driver’s seat, and there was no other evidence that any other person was involved with the use of the automobile at the time in question.”

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