A New Jersey appellate court yesterday upheld the principle that convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) can be imposed on individuals who were not driving. David Montalvo, 36, found this out as he responsibly tried to sleep off his intoxication in his GMC pickup truck while safely stopped in the parking lot of the Market Place Deli on a cold February morning last year. At around 5am he awoke to see a Hamburg Police Department patrolman standing over him. The officer had opened the door of Montalvo's truck to rouse the man and insist that he take a breathalyzer test. Montalvo refused.
He was arrested and forced to make a conditional guilty plea to the charge of DUI, intending to challenge the police officer's actions as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Montalvo's attorney argued that the patrolman could have no reasonable grounds to suspect that a sleeping man was involved in criminal activity. Montalvo's truck was running, in park, because according to weather records it was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit that Saturday morning.
"From the perspective of the officer on the scene, I don't find at all that what he was doing was unreasonable," Superior Court Judge Thomas Critchley Jr. said in his rejection of Montalvo's argument. "In fact, I find it would have been unreasonable to have stopped his inquiries at any point short of what he did."
The appellate court agreed that the officer was acting reasonably to render assistance to someone who may have been in distress.
"The officer wanted to make sure the driver was 'okay,' nothing was wrong with the businesses and that the truck was operating properly," the appellate decision concluded. "We are convinced that under the facts as observed by Officer Aaronson defendant was lawfully subject to limited inquiry based upon an objectively reasonable exercise of the officer's community caretaking function."
The appellate division affirmed Montalvo's DUI conviction, meaning the sleeping motorist faces a civil remedial fee or "driver responsibility" tax of $3000 in addition to various other fines and fees of at least $1000, plus his legal bills.
Here's what we learn in the Bizzarro-world reasoning of NJ's appellate court:
- "Sleeping in a Parked Vehicle" = Driving
- "Acting reasonably to render assistance to someone who may have been in distress" = demanding a Breathalyzer test
- Courts are nothing more than rubber stamps for terrible legislation
- By upholding this conviction, the appellate court creates a huge incentive for drunks who would otherwise sleep it off in their cars to attempt driving home instead. You know, since either way it's "driving under the influence." Way to encourage the very behavior the law was supposed to prevent. Jackasses.