Michigan Court Rules That Man Cannot Be Charged With Driving Drunk In His Own Driveway

drunken-drivewayjpg-a941a762d14dde2dThe Michigan Court of Appeals has handed down an interesting ruling this week that a man arrested for driving drunk in his own driveway cannot be pros in favor of a man who was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated . . . in his own driveway. In a 2-1 opinion, the court ruled that Gina Robert Rea’s driving 25 feet in this driveway did not constitute “operating his vehicle in an area generally accessible to motor vehicles.”

The court laid out the basic facts:

Late one spring night, defendant had a lot to drink and withdrew to his Cadillac sedan to listen to loud music. A neighbor objected to the noise and called the police. Two officers responded. They found defendant seated in his car, the driver’s door ajar. The vehicle was parked deep in defendant’s driveway, next to his house. An officer instructed defendant to turn down the music. The neighbor complained a second time, and one of the officers returned to the scene. The officer heard no music and could not see the Cadillac.

When the third noise dispatch issued, Northville police officer Ken Delano parked on the street near defendant’s home and began walking up defendant’s driveway. The door to the detached garage opened and defendant’s vehicle backed out for “about 25 feet” before stopping. [*2] At that point the car was still in defendant’s side or backyard. As noted by the officer:
Q. . . . So at all times he was either in his side yard or in his own backyard, correct?

A. Yes, sir.
Defendant then pulled the car back into the garage. He was arrested as he walked toward his house.

So the car never left the driveway.

The state law requires that the vehicle be driven in an area accessible to other motor vehicles:

“A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.”

One could argue that a driveway is “generally accessible” but two judges saw a distinction in affirming the lower court decision by the Oakland County Circuit Court. Appeals Court Judges Elizabeth Gleicher and Douglas Shapiro found that the driveway was only accessible to members of a household and was not within the intent of the legislature. The key was the word “generally.”

“Had the legislature wanted to criminalize driving while intoxicated in one’s own driveway, it could have outlawed the operation of a motor vehicle in any place ‘accessible to motor vehicles,’ omitting the adverb ‘generally,'” the court ruled. ” … The commonly understood and dictionary-driven meanings of the term ‘generally’ in this context compel the conclusion that the legislature meant to limit the reach.”

Judge Kathleen Jansen went perfectly medieval in response in her dissent. After noting that the question of whether the driveway is generally accessible to motor vehicles is a question of fact for the trial court, she added:

“I disagree with the majority’s conclusion that the area of defendant’s driveway on which he operated his vehicle was akin to a moat that strangers were forbidden to cross because it is unclear whether other vehicles were routinely permitted or forbidden to access the portion of defendant’s driveway on which he operated his vehicle.”

Both sides have solid arguments in this opinion, in my view. I think the opinion comes down to a certain presumption against extending the criminal law absent stronger evidence of legislative intent to apply these laws to driving on your own property. That would seem a major extension of the law that would generate considerable controversy. Courts will often defer to the legislature on such questions while retaining a narrow construction absent a change.

What do you think?

The case is People v. Rea, 2016 Mich. App. LEXIS 777 (Mich. App. Ct. 2016

28 thoughts on “Michigan Court Rules That Man Cannot Be Charged With Driving Drunk In His Own Driveway”

  1. This case is correctly ruled, but the premise is still fukt up, it should even reach a level of analysis, because what you do on your own private property is not a matter of inquiry.
    If you had a private racetrack, and wanted to drive drunk on it, that should not be proper extension of the state’s public saftety laws. The element of using public roads is missing, the judicial inquiry should go no further.

    [Drug laws, laws obviously violate that premise, but they are not premised upon public safety, rather they have other more dubious grounds for their legislation.]

  2. The law goes way too far in criminalizing conduct because it “just might” be dangerous, and DUI laws are among the worst. I propose we repeal them altogether. If someone drives badly enough that other people’s lives are in danger, a cop ought to be able to get video of it that will convince a jury to convict him of reckless driving. But unless that happens, it’s none of the state’s business what’s in a driver’s bloodstream.

  3. My property I can be drunk if I want. Now, if I ran over someone, that would be different. Maybe citation for loud music?

  4. I say this as ppl have hunting grounds all over america…privately owned. And should they not be 16 while driving a quad or be totally bashed….it is not the govt job to ticket them….because they don’t have jurisdiction….and rightly damn so!

  5. If it wasn’t on the road what was the jurisdiction? You can’t turn a noise complaint into a dui. This is tiger woods case all over. So what if he hit a fire hydrant…no matter how he drove or parked the cops had no jurisdiction. Jurisdiction matters.

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