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Massachusetts Supreme Court Rules Simply Putting Key In Ignition Enough for DUI / Drunk Driving

In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Robert McGillivary, the Massachusetts Supreme Court addressed the legal issue as to whether an intoxicated driver, who only puts the key in the vehicle’s ignition without turning the car on, can be found guilty of Drunk Driving in Massachusetts.

By way of background, Robert McGillivary was convicted after trial of Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol. At trial, the evidence presented by the prosecutor was simply that he was found in the passenger’s seat of the car and had turned the ignition key once to activate the car’s power – but not further to turn the car on. At some point, the defendant testified that he had moved from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, but did not recall ever putting the keys in the ignition. He ultimately found by the police slumped over the steering wheel. At his trial, there was absolutely no evidence that he actually drove the car at all.

McGillivary was convicted after trial and he appealed his conviction arguing that simply turning the car’s power on was not “operation” for purposes of the crime of Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court, however, said that it was…

In reaching its decision, the court relied on previous Massachusetts caselaw that defined “operation” as anytime a person intentionally does an act or makes use of any mechanical or electrical agency which alone or in sequence sets in motion the motive power of that vehicle.

In following that definition, the court explained that turning the key in the ignition to the “on” position could therefore constitute a part of a sequence that would set the vehicle’s engine in motion, thereby constituting “operation.”

In my reading of this opinion, there is still an argument to be made that simply putting the keys in the ignition, without turning or activating the electrical power, does not constitute “operation” for purposes of Massachusetts Drunk Driving Laws.

The lesson learned here then, ladies and gentlemen, is that if you are in any way intoxicated and pass out in the car, make sure the keys are not in the ignition…

If you have been arrested or charged with violating Massachusetts’ DUI / Drunk Driving Laws, you should consult with someone such as Boston Criminal Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis, who is available 24/7 for consultation.

To schedule a Free Consultation with a Boston DUI / Drunk Driving Lawyer, Click Here to Contact Us Online or call 617-325-9500.