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  • Writer's pictureClaire Edwards

Nuances of DWIs: State v. Smith

Louisiana v. Leory Smith shows the difference between “driving” a motor vehicle and “operating” a motor vehicle, explains that the driver must have “some control or manipulation” of the motor vehicle, and establishes that a DWI is not limited to state highways.

When the officer arrived at Mr. Smith’s vehicle in response to an ambulance driver reporting that the car had crashed into a ditch, Mr. Smith told the officer his 13 year old son had been driving.  However, the officer inspected the driver’s seat of the vehicle and found that the seat was pushed too far back for the son to have been driving.  He charged Mr. Smith with an OWI, and after trial and appeal, the First Circuit of Louisiana determined that it was a good charge for OWI.  What law supports this decision?

(1)  Operating is different from driving:  In State v. Lindinger, the Louisiana Supreme Court emphasized that, under La. R.S. 14:98, the State must prove the accused operated a vehicle while intoxicated.  However, the statuet does not require proof that the defendant was driving the vehicle, and the jurisprudence recognizes that the term “operating” is broader than the term “driving.”

(2)  Some control or manipulation: In State v. Johnson, the court stated that in order to operate a motor vehicle, the defendant must have exercised some control or manipulation over the vehicle, such as steering, backing, or any physical handling of the controls for the purpose of putting the car in motion.  It is not necessary that the car move in order for the State to prove the element of operation.

(3)  DWI not limited to state highways:  Ultimately, in State v. Leory Smith, the court determined the DWI statute does nto limit the prohibition of driving while intoxicated to driving on state highways, and evidence of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, even in the ditch, constitutes evidence of the offense.

Important Cases:

State of Louisiana v. Leory Smith, Sr., 638 So.2d 1212 (La. App. 1 Cir. 1994)

State v. Lindinger, 357 So.2d 500 (La. 1978)

City of Bastrop v. Paxton, 457 So.2d 168, 169 (La. App. 2d Cir. 1984)

State v. Johnson, 580 So.2d 998, 1001 (La. App. 3d Cir. 1991)

State v. Brister, 514 So.2d 205, 207 (La. App. 3d Cir. 1987)

State v. Layssard, 310 So.2 107, 110 (LA. 1975)

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