Drunken Drivers Don't Even Have to Drive

If you are hammered and get in your car, you don’t even have to be driving it to get nabbed for drunken driving, Connecticut judges decided.

The man behind this unusual decision is Michael Cyr, 50, of Andover. 

The whole ordeal started on that February 2005 night in a Manchester parking lot when he started his car with a remote starter. He was drunk, and then got in the driver's side.  That's when cops swooped in.  But he had never put the keys in the ignition, and never drove it anywhere.

However, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled, 5-0, Monday that people can be convicted of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs, without actually having driven.

The judges decided that Cyr's actions represented the first steps in the operation of a motor vehicle.

"In starting the engine of his vehicle remotely then getting behind the steering wheel, the defendant clearly undertook the first act in a sequence of steps necessary to set in motion the motive power of a vehicle," Chief Justice Chase Rogers wrote in the opinion.

What’s "motive power?" The phrase comes from a 1939 Connecticut court decision, long before remote starters came to be. It defines what constitutes "operating" a motor vehicle.

Justices also cited case law from several states including Florida, North Dakota and Oklahoma, where authorities decided that some drunken dude who pulls his car from a ditch, the snow or the mud is "operating" a vehicle.

"Like a slippery surface or trapped wheels, the lack of an inserted ignition key is but a temporary impediment to the movement of a remotely started vehicle," Rogers wrote.

Here’s the kicker: Michael’s wife, Jessica Cyr, said her husband, who does construction work, got into the car that night to plug in his cell phone and call for a ride home.

The state Appellate Court, which had thrown out Cyr's conviction, was forced to reinstate the conviction.

Cyr pleaded no contest to the drunken driving charge after his bids to dismiss the case failed. He had two previous drunken driving convictions before 2005.

Now, he could spend a year in prison followed by three years of probation.

That’s going to create a problem for his family.  Jessica Cyr was laid off from her job. The couple live with her two children, ages 12 and 13, from her previous marriage.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," she said in a phone interview as she cried. "I've got no job. My husband won't be able to work. If I turn my heat on, the boiler leaks. ... I can't believe it."

Jessica Cyr said she knows the dangers of drunken driving, because both she and her mother were in accidents where the other drivers were intoxicated. She said she has had neck pain, while her mother suffered a traumatic brain injury and was blinded.

"This is an issue I don't take lightly," she said.

The Cyrs could appeal Monday's decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Jessica Cyr said that's not likely because they couldn't afford it.

 Steven Tomeo, Michael Cyr's lawyer, said the court has set a bad precedent.

"It sounds like they're saying if you're under the influence, if you're impaired, you have no right to go into the car in the driver's side and if you do, you do so under you're own peril with the chance of being charged with operating under the influence," Tomeo said. "I just would like them to stick with the facts."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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