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Inoperable Vehicle Defense

In many DUI cases in Tampa, Hillsborough County, the individual arrested is never seen actually driving a vehicle. Florida law allows the prosecutor to show that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol while either driving or being in actual physical control of the vehicle.

Because of this broad definition, problems can arise when interpreting what it means to "actually" be in control of a motor vehicle when the vehicle is incapable of being started and driven down the road. If you have been arrested for DUI in Tampa, FL, and have questions about the "inoperable vehicle defense" under Florida law, contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss your case.

Call 813-250-0500 today.


Proving "Actual Physical Control" of a Vehicle in Florida

Florida law makes it illegal to drive or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). The reason why it is illegal to drive "while in actual physical control" of the vehicle (even if it is not alleged that the defendant actual drove) is because the Florida DUI statute is intended to punish even those individuals who pose a risk of driving while under the influence.


Inoperable Defense for DUI under Florida Law

While the State is not required to prove that the vehicle is capable of operation, inoperability may be a defense to whether the defendant was in actual physical control of the vehicle. Jones v. State, 510 So.2d 1147, 1149 (Florida 1st DCA 1987). The defense of inoperability is based upon the premise that:

A person ought not be convicted of having a vehicle under his or her control while intoxicated when in fact the vehicle was inoperable, the intoxicated person did not operate the vehicle prior to its becoming disabled, and the vehicle's mechanical problems were such that it could not under any reasonable circumstances have been operated by the person accused.

Id. at 1149. In the Jones case, the court held that the defendant could not be convicted of DUI where she was found slumped over the wheel of a car stopped on the shoulder of a public road in light of evidence that:

  1. the vehicle was mechanically inoperable,
  2. the defendant had not operated the vehicle prior to its becoming disabled, and
  3. the vehicle's mechanical problems were such that it could not have been operated.

Inherent in the Jones decision is a lack of circumstantial or direct evidence showing that the defendant (and not another person who fled the scene after the car became inoperable) drove the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol just prior to it becoming inoperable.


Public Policy in Enforcing DUI Laws

It does not further this public policy of promoting public safety if a person is impaired while sitting in an inoperable vehicle. Actual physical control implies the ability to start and more the vehicle, and an inoperable vehicle is not capable of being driven, regardless of the individuals intent when entering the vehicle.


DUI Jury Instruction - Inoperable Vehicle

The Florida jury instruction on the subject provides:

It is a defense to the charge of Driving under the Influence if at the time of the alleged offense, the vehicle was inoperable.

However, it is not a defense if the defendant was driving under the influence before the vehicle became inoperable.

Therefore, if you are not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the vehicle was operable at the time of the alleged offense, you should find the defendant not guilty.

However, if you are convinced that the vehicle was operable at the time of the alleged offense, then you should find the defendant guilty, if all the other elements of the charge have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt.



Inoperable Vehicle vs. Immovable Vehicle

Cases from other states in which the operable vehicle defense was not successful in cases in which circumstantial evidence indicated that the defendant's impaired driving cause the vehicle to crash and become inoperable just prior to the defendant coming in contact with DUI officer include the following:

  • State v. Starfield, 481 N.W.2d 834 (Minn.1992) (actual physical control proven where car keys were found in defendant's jacket pocket and car was stuck in a snow-filled ditch);
  • Abeln v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 413 N.W.2d 546 (Minn.Ct.App.1987) (actual physical control found despite dead battery);
  • State v. Woodward, 408 N.W.2d 927 (Minn.Ct.App.1987) (actual physical control found where vehicle had a flat tire); and
  • State v. Duemke, 352 N.W.2d 427 (Minn.Ct.App.1984) (actual physical control where car was stuck in a snow-filled ditch).

However, if the vehicle is inoperable because of mechanical problems that were not caused by the driving itself, the defense is more likely to be successful. For instance, in State v. Carter, 889 S.W.2d 231, 233 (Tenn.Crim.App. 1994) the court found insufficient evidence to support defendant's conviction for driving under the influence because her car was incapable of being operated without substantial mechanical repairs; experienced mechanic testified that the car was dead,” could not be jump started, and could only be started if the carburetor was replaced or taken apart and thoroughly cleaned.


Finding a Lawyer for the Inoperable Vehicle Defense in Florida

If you have been arrested for DUI in Tampa, FL, contact an experienced Tampa DUI Attorney to discuss whether the "inoperable vehicle defense" under Florida law applies to the particular facts and circumstances of your drunk or impaired driving case.


Call 813-250-0500. We can begin your defense today.

This article was last updated on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.