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MA DUI: Operation of Motor Vehicle, Key is the Point

Contact Attorney Jason Chan

Attorney Jason Chan

267 North Beacon Street, Suite 3
Boston MA 01235

Phone: 781-343-1DUI (781-343-1384)
Fax: 617-226-7986

keyPhoto of Key taken by Rosa Cabecinhas

In any case the prosecution has the burden to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.  If a person is charged with a DUI (Driving while under the influence) the prosecution must prove 3 elements beyond a reasonable doubt.  One of elements to prove a person guilty of DUI is operation.

Operation has always been a battle ground for DUI cases in court.  What does it mean to operate a motor vehicle in a DUI case?  Does the car need to move in some way to be considered operation in DUI cases?  In 2007, Robert McGillivary, a defendant was convicted of DUI.  The defendant argued in his DUI case that he was not operating the motor vehicle.  Therefore, he should not be found guilty of DUI.  Police found the defendant slumped over the steering wheel with the key in the ignition.  The police later charged him with DUI.  The jury ultimately convicted the defendant of DUI. 

After the DUI conviction, the defendant appealed his case to the appeals court.  The defendant argued that he should not have been convicted of DUI because the engine was not on.  The state appeals court did not accept the defendant’s argument and upheld the DUI conviction.  In the appeals court decision in upholding the DUI conviction, the court ruled that a person can be convicted of DUI if he inserts a key in a car’s ignition and turns on the vehicles electricity without starting the engine. 

This may not be the end of this argument as the defendant may appeal his DUI conviction to the Supreme Judicial Court.  However, as the law is right now, a DUI defendant never needs to actually make the car move.  Even further, a DUI defendant never needs to turn the engine on.  The state can prove that a DUI defendant was operating a motor vehicle if the DUI defendant had the keys in the car and the dashboard lights are on. 


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