Key Fobs, Sleeping and "control of the vehicle"

In the July 2015 decision of Virginia v. Lopez, the defendant was found by police in the driver’s seat of a Nissan Murano backed into a handicapped parking spot at a restaurant. The engine was off, but with "some lights emanating from the radio panel”. Lopez appeared to be sleeping, but held an electric vehicle key fob in his right hand. He told the officer he was waiting for a friend. He acknowledged having three or four beers. Lopez’ BAC was measured at .24 and he was charged with DUI. The car has a push-button ignition that requires the key fob to be present. Pressing the button on the fob one time activates electrical accessories in the car when the engine is not running. Pushing the fob button twice turns on the ignition system. The car then can be started by pressing the brake and pushing the ignition switch. The case turned on whether Lopez was “operating” the vehicle. Several Virginia cases have affirmed convictions for driving while intoxicated where defendants were found in parked vehicles with keys in the ignitions.“The outcomes of these cases often turn on whether the vehicle is capable of being operated at the time that the driver is found,” Judge Robert Smith said. The prosecutor asserted that a 2012 Virginia Supreme Court case required nothing more than the defendant’s physical presence in the driver’s seat for a conviction. Smith rejected that interpretation. The case requires “actual physical control” of the vehicle, the judge said. That control can be established by the use of auxiliary power, such as the radio or “internal electrical capability,” Smith said. As such, the defendants' motion for acquittal was denied.

New Felony DUI Law in Colorado

After years of debate, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill that creates a felony charge for a fourth drunk driving offense. Until now, Colorado was one of a handful of states where repeat offenders received only a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail.. "We're one of four states that hadn't done this," Hickenlooper said. "Now there are only three." The new felony law went into effect on Wednesday, August 5th, so an offender has to be arrested that day or later to be eligible.

Minnesota DWI Courts are Making Progress

Minnesota is now operating 13 DWI courts across the state. Judge Anne Rasmusson, a Ninth Judicial District Court judge, said, "We all work together, which is really something new through the DWI courts," she said. "It's what they're working toward so that everybody's at the table, all addressing the person that's coming into the program and helping them continue with their progress." Rasmusson agreed, saying there are "huge advantages" to bringing all agencies together.

Colorado Legislature Wants to Track Marijuana-Related Driving Offenses

With Colorado's legalization of marijuana comes the desire for data to track any impact on public safety. The Gazette reports that legislators in Colorado will propose a bill that will enable marijuana-related driving offenses to be tracked. "The motivation is really to be able to have a real discussion with real numbers and real data," Rep Jon Keyser (R) said. "If this is a problem we definitely need to address it, but right now we can't even say if it's a problem." He's teamed up with marijuana legalization advocate Rep. Jonathan Singer (D), to draft a bill this summer that would create a separate charge for driving under the influence of drugs. "We want to be able to pinpoint what public safety issues are out there related to impaired driving and whether that's alcohol, prescription pills or marijuana, or some combination of all those things," Singer said. "It's important for the public to know what the real public safety risk is and that way we can fine tune our approaches at the state level."

Upcoming Courses at the National Judicial College

The following courses are offered by the NJC in Reno, Nevada in the coming months. A limited number of scholarships are available through generous funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Please contact Rebecca Bluemer at for more information.

Drugs in America. August 25-27, 2015. Reno, NV: This course will provide an in-depth analysis on the science behind drug addiction, and will offer practical solutions for the judge to manage these types of cases. The course will start with an introductory session on basic brain chemistry, and then will move to a thorough analysis of the physiological and psychological effects of specific categories of drugs. In addition, the course will provide practical skills in order to determine which type of drug(s), if any, a user might be under the influence of, and will offer different types of treatment options. The course will address several special populations, such as juveniles, those with co-occurring disorders, and veterans, and will provide examples of effective management and sentencing strategies for each group. Read more.

Impaired Driving Case Essentials. October 26-29, 2015. Reno, NV: This course is designed to provide judges with an overview of the impaired driving issue, and will provide insight into several pertinent areas, such as impairment detection methods, the pharmacological effects of drugs and alcohol on the human body, and effective sentencing methods. After completing this course, you will be able to analyze circumstances providing legal bases for stops, searches and seizures, and arrests; and will be able to analyze the admissibility of testimonial and physical evidence. In addition, you will be able to describe the principles of pharmacology in order to effectively evaluate expert testimony. The course will also include a trip to a local AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, in order to familiarize the judge with the inner-workings of this often-ordered part of a sentence. Finally, the course will conclude with several discussions on evidence-based sentencing practices, and tips on how to most effectively manage impaired driving cases.

NCSC Traffic Resource Center

The Traffic Resource Center is a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to establish a resource for judges, court administrators, court clerks, and other court staff on issues related to traffic adjudication. It is an integrated clearinghouse of information as well as a training and technical assistance resource to improve court decision-making and processing of traffic cases involving impaired driving, drugged driving, distracted driving, and commercial driving. The purpose of the Traffic Resource Center website is to provide a useful, ready reference for judges new to the bench or recently assigned to traffic cases, who may need quick access to accurate and timely information until they can receive more formal, structured education.

Upcoming Events

 Want more? Subscribe to our e-newsletters

Send us info!

Notice of new or upcoming articles, projects, symposia, and other traffic-related events is appreciated. We strive to develop and to keep an "Upcoming Events" section relevant, and up-to-date. When alerting us to articles published elsewhere on the Web, please include the URL. We cannot reprint articles from other sources without permission, and generally only provide a link.

Disclaimer: Opinions contained herein, as well as material appearing in external sites to which this publication provides links, do not necessarily reflect those of the National Center for State Courts or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Presence of any such material should not be construed as support by the National Center for State Courts or any of its associations, affiliates, or employees.

NCSC maintains exclusive use of its subscriber lists. Information contained therein will only be used by NCSC and is never distributed to other organizations. All communications from NCSC contain an opt-out provision for your convenience.


Some online research provided by LexisNexis.

Forward our newsletter to your colleagues, friends, neighbors, etc. Subscribe to this and other NCSC e-newsletters at