Michigan Supreme Court Rules That Police Can Charge Man For Drunk Driving On His Own Driveway

There is an interesting case out of Michigan where the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a man can be charged with driving while intoxicated on his own private driveway.  The case against Gino Rea of Northville was reinstated in this decision (PDF) after the court found that the law encompasses any area accessible to motor vehicles, even if it is on private property.

Rea was arrested after a police officer responded to a noise complaint in 2014 and saw Rea start to back his car down the driveway. Rea however saw the police car and pulled back into his garage.  Later police determined that his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit.

The issue turned on the language of the  state’s drunken driving law. MCL 257.625(1) provides in pertinent part:

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.

That language required a reference to the dictionary:

Because the Michigan Vehicle Code does not define the phrase “generally accessible,” we consult the dictionary definitions of these words. Feeley, 499 Mich at 437. The word “generally” is an adverb that modifies the adjective “accessible.” “Generally” is defined as “in a general manner”; “in disregard of specific instances and with regard to an overall picture”; and “as a rule: USUALLY.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed).3 The term “accessible” means “providing access”; “capable of being reached: being within reach” and “capable of being used or seen.” Id.4 Therefore, the plain and ordinary meaning of the phrase “generally accessible” means “usually capable of being reached.”

This phrase must be considered in its statutory context: “other place . . . generally accessible to motor vehicles.” MCL 257.625(1). The phrase “generally accessible” modifies the preceding noun phrase “other place.” Accordingly, the prohibition in MCL 257.625(1) against operating a vehicle while intoxicated does not apply to every place.

Instead, the statute’s prohibition applies only to highways, to other places open to the general public, and to other places that are generally accessible—that is, usually or ordinarily capable of being reached. Finally, we must incorporate the phrase “to motor vehicles,” which is an adverbial prepositional phrase that modifies “generally accessible.” The Michigan Vehicle Code defines “motor vehicle” as “every vehicle that is self-propelled . . . .” MCL 257.33. Therefore, as a whole, the relevant statutory provision prohibits an intoxicated person from operating a vehicle in a place that is usually capable of being reached by self-propelled vehicles.

Accordingly, your driveway is a covered area like a road. What is particularly interesting is that the driveway has often been treated as an extension of the home for purposes of other laws like the Castle Doctrine in allowing the use of lethal force to protect a domicile. Thus, in some states,  it could be both a part of the domicile and akin to a public road?  There is also the question of long driveways that are not generally accessible to the public.  If you can exclude the public from your driveway, is it still “accessible” for the purposes of a sobriety stop or arrest?


48 thoughts on “Michigan Supreme Court Rules That Police Can Charge Man For Drunk Driving On His Own Driveway”

  1. Not in WI they uphold your rights. The cops tried to give me one after super bowl party at buddy’s and i did not want to drive so i slept in my truck. You can guess what happened next. So went to court said my 4th amendment rights were violated the police did not have a warrant or consent. And if convicted of this crime I would file case with federal court. Needless to say judge said the states leeway is 10 feet past road I was passed that. So case dismissed. Now your rights people

  2. For gods sake people, there was a noise complaint, the police show up, and witness this drunk pulling out of his garage. Any sane person will believe at that point that this guy planned to go for a drive. Hence the charge, He was arrested on the third visit by the police.

    1. that’s right. he’s a mean drunk and has been in prison already for DUI. He was blasting his music from his car at 2am on a sunday night 20 feet from his neighbors. His rich parents have always gotten the spoiled brat out of his trouble. Guess they could not this time.

      1. How would anyone know these things from the story Turley wrote? Answer: no one could. His point is that the court has imposed an astonishing new infringement on private property.

  3. When tigers first wife tried to rescue him with a nine iron after the hydrant deal …his lawyer had em all clam up…it was a “private” road. Even fl state patrol didn’t have jurisdiction.
    Was there proof he was going anywhere? And come on…
    Above comments are right….pulled in his garage….why did he submit?

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