The “Stationary Shelter” Doctrine in Maryland DUI Cases

by Jamison Koehler on May 17, 2013

Stamm.jpegAlthough I am not even sworn in yet, I think I am going to like Maryland practice.

I noticed while studying for the bar that the discovery rules are far more encompassing – and rational — than in any other jurisdiction I have practiced. And then, in reading Lenny Stamm’s Maryland DUI Law, I came upon what Stamm refers to as the “stationary shelter” doctrine.

If I recall correctly, there used to be a judicially-created doctrine like this in Pennsylvania until the legislature intervened to eliminate it. It is the recognition that you don’t want to penalize someone who is using a motor vehicle not as a means of transportation but as shelter. As Stamm puts it, “[w]hen a person is reasonably using the shelter for shelter, has not driven, and does not intend to drive the vehicle, the person did not meet the statutory definition of driving” for the purposes of a DUI.”  You also do not want to discourage someone who gets into a motor vehicle to drive only to conclude that he is too intoxicated to drive who then uses the car as a shelter to “sleep it off.”

The key case in Maryland on this doctrine is Atkinson v. State, 627 A.2d 1019 (1993). The officer in that case came upon the defendant in a parked car on the right hand shoulder of the row. The defendant was in the driver’s seat with the keys in the ignition and the engine off. Noting that you do not want to convict someone of “parking while intoxicated,” the court held:

We therefore join other courts which have rejected an inflexible test that would make criminals of all people who sit intoxicated in a vehicle while in possession of the vehicle’s ignition keys, without regard to the surrounding circumstances.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Henry Martin July 1, 2014 at 7:32 pm

Of course ‘keys were in the ignition’ shouldn’t be a strong indicator of driving either. As many cars today have power windows, a person would need to insert the keys into the ignition in order to roll down the window to answer a patrol officer. If they left the keys in the ignition after the officer asks them to step out, that ‘evidence’ would be used against them.

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