Peculiar DUI Charge Overturned by South Dakota Supreme Court

A South Dakotan man can rest a bit easier now that his DUI conviction dating back to September of 2012 has been overturned.

According to an Associated Press report in July, Donald Nekolite, 54, was initially charged after accidentally placing his truck in neutral, causing it to slide backwards into another vehicle within close proximity. At the time, Nekolite was supposedly reaching over from the passenger’s side to grab a cigarette when he accidently bumped the gear stick while attempting to take a smoke break outside of a bar in Canistota, South Dakota.

Although Nekolite was intoxicated, he claims he wasn’t planning on driving. Rather, he’d planned on having his sober girlfriend drive the vehicle when it was time to leave.

A magistrate court’s finding in the aftermath of the incident was that Nekolite was indeed in control of an operating vehicle. Furthermore, an appellate court upheld the finding based on an officer’s testimony that Nekolite allegedly admitted to sitting in the driver’s seat when the incident occurred.

Nekolite felt like he was wrongly convicted, however, fighting on until his case was taken up by the state’s highest court for consideration. Overall, the Supreme Court’s ruling overturned the conviction by a margin of 3 to 2.

Specifically, the Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellate Court’s finding that Nekolite was in physical control of his vehicle. Instead, the majority found that he wasn’t in a position to operate the vehicle in what was considered a “usual and ordinary manner,” according to a document provided by the court.

Donald Nekolite’s attorney, Mike Unke, meanwhile, signaled that the ruling should provide further clarity on drunk driving laws.

The case is surely peculiar, but it’s probably not the most unusual. Although it relates to South Dakota in particular, the case’s ability to clarify what constitutes a DUI could have an impact across state lines.