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The term operating is broader than the term driving. Operating in some circumstances may mean handling the controls of a vehicle. The definition of operating, however, should not dictate the result in all cases. The result should be determined by the sufficiency of the evidence in each particular case.
Defendant had consumed beer at a bar for several hours and left when his girlfriend got into an argument with his mother. The girlfriend, who had not consumed alcohol, began to drive the two home but noticed that defendant's mother was being thrown out of the bar. The girlfriend drove and parked defendant's car in front of the bar and the two immediately got out to assist defendant's mother. Defendant put his mother in the front seat and told his girlfriend who was sitting in the driver's seat to move over. At that time, the police arrived and defendant was arrested for operating his vehicle while intoxicated. The defendant appealed from the judgment of the district court, which convicted him for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Under the circumstances, could the defendant be convicted for operating a vehicle while intoxicated?
The court reversed defendant's conviction. The evidence only showed that defendant, while intoxicated, was behind the wheel of his parked car with its motor was running and that the braked lights flashed briefly. Although such evidence alone may have been sufficient to convict defendant, the testimony of defendant and his girlfriend explaining how defendant ended up in the driver's seat was uncontradicted. Further, the girlfriend could have hit the brake pedal upon exiting the vehicle. The evidence did not sufficiently show that defendant handled the controls of the car.