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Pennsylvania Court Further Defines ‘Operation’ of Vehicle in DUI Cases

asleep at wheel - dui in pennsylvania - dui lawsIn Bold vs. Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the Commonwealth Court clarified the precedent for the term ‘operates’, which is used in the Implied Consent Law under Section 1547(b)(1)(ii) of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code, 75 for license suspension cases.

This definition expands the meaning to include that being in the driver’s seat of a running vehicle while intoxicated is reasonable cause for police to request chemical testing.

All judges of the appellate court heard the case and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court panel ruled against Thomas Bold, despite his vehicle being stationary at the time of the arrest and with no indication Bold had been driving the vehicle.

A dissenting opinion was filed by Judge Leavitt.

PennDOT suspended Bold’s license for 18 months following his arrest when he failed to submit to a chemical test. He had previously been convicted of DUI in 2007.

According to the case filed on November 21, 2022:

Officer Gelnett testified that he was on patrol at the Capital City Mall on January 25, 2020, at 6:14 p.m., when he was dispatched to check on “a vehicle in the parking lot that was running with a gentleman passed out behind the wheel.”

He located the vehicle, which was unlocked and running, with the headlights on. He opened the driver’s side door and shut off the engine. Officer Gelnett then woke Licensee, who was in the driver’s seat, smelled of alcohol, and appeared “obviously intoxicated.”

Officer Gelnett stated that the vehicle “was legally parked in a parking space” near the mall’s liquor store and a Primanti Brothers bar and restaurant. Licensee told Officer Gelnett that he had been in Primanti Brothers watching a game, “and [that] he just [went] out to his truck and was sleeping in his truck [until] he thought he was able to drive home.”

Licensee refused to submit to a preliminary breath test and insisted that he was not driving. Officer Gelnett responded that Licensee was sitting behind the wheel of a running vehicle and, thus, was in actual physical control of the vehicle.

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