This is an audio case brief of Cox v. Director of Revenue, 98 S.W. 3d 548 (2003). The audio brief provides a full case analysis. However a written summary of the case is provided below.
On Saturday, August 15, 1998, at 10:20 p.m., a police officer discovered Cox sleeping or unconscious. He was sitting in the driver’s seat behind the wheel of a vehicle. The vehicle was in the parking lot of a gas station. Cox was the only person in or around the vehicle. The keys to the vehicle were in the ignition, and the motor was running. The officer saw the shift lever of Cox’s vehicle in “park.” He knocked on the window of the vehicle.
Cox was awaken by the knock, and he lowered the window of the vehicle. Cox has had a strong odor of an intoxicating beverage on his breath. His eyes were very bloodshot and watery, and he appeared disoriented. The officer noticed a glass of brown liquid between his legs. At the officer’s request, Cox turned off the ignition, exited the vehicle, and tried but failed sobriety tests. The officer arrested him for driving while intoxicated. After his Miranda warnings were read to him, Cox answered “Yes” to the form question, “Were you operating the vehicle?”. A subsequent breath test revealed a blood alcohol content of .18 of one percent.
The Director suspended Cox’s driving privileges pursuant to section 302.505, RSMo Supp. 1997. Cox appealed the suspension of his drivers license under this statute all the way to the supreme court of Missouri.
302.505, RSMo Supp. 1997
The statute reads in relevant part;
the Director shall suspend a driver’s license if the arresting officer had probable cause to believe the person was driving a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of at least ten hundredths (.10) of one percent.
The meaning of driving is “physically driving or operating a motor vehicle.”
The issue is whether Cox was driving or operating the vehicle when the officer found him asleep or unconscious behind his vehicle whether the motor of the vehicle was running and the shift lever was in park
The court ascertain the legislature intent for 302.505 by considering the plain and ordinary meaning of the word.
The dictionary defines driving as “to guide a vehicle along or through,” and defined operate as to cause to function usually be direct personal effort.
Cox argued that the officer did not observe him operating or driving the vehicle.
The court disagreed with Cox.
Although Cox was not driving the vehicle because the vehicle was motionless, he did guide it along or through. That is, he operated the vehicle. Once the key is in the ignition, and the engine is running, an officer may have probable cause to believe that the person sitting behind the steering wheel is operating the vehicle. This is true even if that person is sleeping or unconscious.
In this case, the key was in the ignition, the engine was running, and Cox was sitting behind the steering wheel. Based on these stipulated facts, the officer had probable cause to believe that Cox was operating the vehicle.
The suspension of Cox’s license is affirmed because the officer had probable cause to believe that he was operating the vehicle.