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. intent of the law is to keep public roads safe. there’s no violation of that when a person doesn’t venture out onto those roads, but instead remains on his own private property.

    if the cops wanted to deal with a noise complaint, this wasn’t the way to do it.

  2. stevegroen makes an interesting point. But, I gotta go w/ the majority opinion, being a libertarian and all.

  3. I’m sorry. And to Mr. Fudd. There is no reason to tackle Constitutional issues if a far more simple answer is available under Michigan law.

  4. If Michigan law permits an underage teen with no license to back the family car out of the garage it seems like this case ought to follow.

    While there may be other charges in association with the underage teen backing out the car (e.g., child endangerment against a parent?), there may be nothing the kid did wrong under Michigan law. It seems like this decision could follow such reasoning.

  5. This case has Right of Privacy issues which are derived from several provisions of the Constitution. Why do we not discuss them?

  6. This guy should now build a Trump Wall between his home, the neighbor, all four sides, and have a locked gate at the street with no trespass signs and a sign which says This Means You Pig! right at the driveway gate. Then put metal spikes in the yard and barbed wire at the top of the fence. Electrify the fence. Sit in the attic looking out the porthole with the rifle. Then turn up the music. Play: Bye Bye Miss American Pie.

  7. I recall my father telling me about a police officer friend of his who had a bad day. He was training a new guy, and they responded to the scene of a traffic accident. A woman driving a convertible had hit a semi at a 90 degree angle. One half of the car, and her, was on one side of the semi, and the other half of the car, and her, was on the other side.

    My father’s friend was investigating the scene, when he looked up and realized his trainee was writing the bottom half of the woman a traffic ticket. Unsafe driving, I think it was. He kind of freaked out a little bit. I know I would have a hard time keeping myself together and my breakfast on the inside. He had to calm down the trainee and get him to take a break and breathe for a bit.

    I’ll bet with all the drunk driving accidents they respond to, cops must hate DUIs a lot. I still think this particular incident was inappropriately charged, though.

  8. The cop needs to be sued for civil rights violation (42 U,S.C. Section 1983) for intruding on the guy’s yard, driveway, sidewalk, and for false arrest. Sue the neighbor under the conspiracy statute 42 U.S.C. Section 1985. Seek damages, punitive damages, atty fees, injunction and declaratory judgment.

  9. I agree that you cannot be charged for DUI if all you do is move your car in your driveway.

    However, I wonder if he stopped the car in his driveway and returned it to his garage because he saw the police, or if he really was planning on only rolling around his own driveway.

  10. The most amazing thing about this case is the fact that the officer who charged it made it a case in the beginning. These nutjobs initially ceremoniously swear an oath to the Constitution, don’t know the difference in public and private property, and are given weapons with which to control others.
    Why do i say ceremoniously? The fact that they don’t keep their oath most of the time gives rise to the question. So why should we take them seriously? Oh! I remember. They have weapons, and will be excused if they use them.

  11. The legislature could cure this matter simply by revising the DUI statute to be clear as to scope:

    From RCW 56.61.502

    (1) A person is guilty of driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, marijuana, or any drug if the person drives a vehicle within this state:

    1. Darren – as written, the mere act of driving the vehicle would make you guilty of the crime. 😉

  12. Brooklyn Bridge: excellent understanding of human nature. 90% of criminal laws should be repealed. The U.S. is a country whose population is filled with prosecutors and judges – in addition to the ones who get overpaid for
    doing the official arresting, prosecuting, and judging.

  13. Is there potential profit in it for the police? If profitable, then DUI in your dreams is DUI period. If not, then it isn’t.

  14. So if, say, a farmer drives his pickup truck out in his pasture while intoxicated, should he be liable to a DUI infraction? I don’t think so.

    And I don’t think that the case mentioned by Schulte should have resulted in an arrest, either. “Driving” should mean driving, not in the back seat sleeping.

  15. Private property has to retain certain rights. Its your home. If we allow the police to police for anything then what is to stop them from arresting you for public drinking if your sitting on your porch drinking a beer? Or how about cutting your grass with a beer in your cupholder. Use some common sense.

    Really sick and tired of the statists who believe the police should be able to arrest you for anything. Enough is enough. Not only do they NOT need more powers, we need to actually take back some they have been given.

    Your home and property is YOUR home and property.

  16. This is akin to a California case from nearly (?) 30 yrs ago. Again, UI behind the wheel but car engine not turned on. Guilty as charged. Memory of the case always reminded me to ensure seatbelt is engaged even on a private dirt oneway. The loci of the infraction is scribed by the seated position of the vehicle’s controls.

    Now what about the car as an autonomous machine which can be over ridden with a DUI licensed driver when car malfunctions ?

  17. Is it considered trespassing in Michigan for someone, say a UPS or FedEx driver, to park in a customer’s driveway to deliver a package? If not, and absent a no-trespassing sign, then I’d think the medieval dissenting judge was correct because the driveway was “generally accessible” to motor vehicles.

    1. It depends on where the mailbox is. With the short driveways we have here, it is considered trespass.

  18. In Arizona he would be guilty of DUI. They found a guy in the back seat of the car passed out. Keys were in the ignition. The court held he still had control of the vehicle since the keys were in the ignition, therefore it was operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

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