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. What should we expect? We live in a police state. I’m surprosed the cops didn’t “rough him up” as commanded by our moron in chief.

  2. MCCORMACK, J. (dissenting).

    “… But an individual homeowner’s residential driveway is not one of those places, according to our Legislature. Indeed, the Legislature has defined a “private driveway” as “any piece of privately owned and maintained property which is used for vehicular traffic, but is not open or normally used by the public.” See MCL 257.44(1) (emphasis added).7 Thus, if a particular driveway is “normally used by the public” it is not a private driveway. Further, if a driveway is not “normally used by the public,” it is not accessed by an appreciable number of vehicles, and therefore cannot sensibly be considered “generally accessible.”8 …”

    The questions seem to be:
    1 what, if any, Legislative history to: “… or (3) in an other place “generally accessible to motor vehicles.” …”
    2 what, if any, individual right(s) or freedom(s) does a citizen possess
    3 what, if any, meaning or purpose does “private” or “private property” retain in this statute and interpretive legal opinion
    4 and so on …

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

    C. S. Lewis
    English essayist & juvenile novelist (1898 – 1963)

  3. I agree with the Court’s statutory interpretation.

    Washington State made the matter clear many years ago when it declared that DUI applies anywhere within the state. It does not require a public roadway be travelled upon:

    RCW 46.61.502
    Driving under the influence.

    (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:
    (a) And the person has, within two hours after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506;

  4. This reminds me of an old episode of “Everybody loves Raymand,” in which the wife left a party, got into her car, decided she had had too much and was tired, and took a nap. The cops arrested her for DUI – because the key was in the ignition and COULD HAVE started the car, even though the car was not running.

    1. This was on a deeded street. I question enforcement on your property with no harm to anybody or anything. I think it’s a police overreach. They do have discretion to charge or not. I don’t think we have the whole story. If the driver was abusive to the officer, considering his alcohol fueled lack of impulse control, I can understand a charge.

    2. An Acquaintance of mine in the DC area told a similar story. He was ticketed while sitting in his parked car with the keys in the ignition, but with the motor off. The claim, which stood so far as I know, was that the keys in the ignition constituted operation of a motor vehicle.

  5. A common libertarian complaint.
    What you do on your own property is your business.
    This ruling socializes private property, and regulates what you do there as if it were a public space.
    Even if the that statute says that, which I don’t believe it does, such overreach does offend the Constitution.
    Very irksome and presumptuous decision.

    1. One cannot smoke marijuana or play with or possess an illegal firearm, just because you are on your own property, so I don’t see how this is “over reaching”. Th

      1. Yes, you CAN do those things on your property (incidentally, there is no such thing as “an illegal firearm”–the Constitution is the ultimate law of the land, and Congress cannot infringe it, no matter if it passes stupid laws.

        But the point here is tyranny. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not subject to speed limits you can get a ticket for breaking just outside its property line. A man’s home is his castle.

        1. By “illegal firearm”, I am referring to stolen. And, yes, you can do all of those things and many more. You CAN also be charged for doing those things.

            1. By no means did I mean to imply that I think these charges should be allowed, nor do I wish to have the country of which you speak. I am merely pointing out that while you or I may wish to do anything we want in our homes, we cannot, because we do face prosecution.

  6. A common libertarian complaint.
    What you do on your own property is your business.
    This ruling socializes private property, and regulates what you do there as if it were a public space.
    Even if the that statute says that, which I don’t believe it does, such overreach does offend the Constitution.
    Very irksome and presumptuous decision.

  7. When judges become outlaws, only outlaws will have judges.

    And that pretty much describes America’s legal system.

  8. Insofar as Michgan or anywhere else is concerned it’s a State issue and each State even each country or city can be different if the State itself approves of the law. None of the federal governments business under 9th and 10th Amendments which we need to use more often. instead of asking for a UN opinion or a World Court decision. which is the real extremist view point.

    Thus the drive way issue is local consult your local laws and if you don’t agree work locally to effect change.

    For example we had DUI DWI for under influence of anything except alcohol including prescriptions and Reckless Driving Three whole catogories whicht then also addressed property damage , injury and death.

    1. All true. This is truly a State issue. Many States define public roadway to be anywhere the public has access to. I’m also surprised Washington actually requires “driving” rather than mere “operation” which is how many States have written their DWI laws. In Texas, one can get a DWI while sitting in a car on the side of the road with the engine off; if the keys are in the ignition and the individual is sitting in the driver’s seat (assuming intoxication, of course).

      This is responsive to aarethun

      1. Mark,

        WA has an analogue of what you are referring to in Texas. It is Physical Control:

        RCW 46.61.504

        Physical control of vehicle under the influence.
        (1) A person is guilty of being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug if the person has actual physical control of a vehicle within this state:
        (a) And the person has, within two hours after being in actual physical control of the vehicle, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher as shown by analysis of the person’s breath or blood made under RCW 46.61.506; or
        This essentially covers the keys in the ignition situation you mentioned but there is an affirmative defense element where a person can be off the roadway, safely. That was added by the legislature ten or fifteen or so years ago to allow a person to legally pull off the road and “sleep it off” rather than attempt to drive home and further risk a DUI related collision. There is however conflict in the courts as to whether a particular case might be considered the safely off road affirmative defense, or being in violation of Physical Control Laws.

        Interestingly, WA considers ocean beaches as public highways so traffic law applies on these. There is even a default speed limit of 25 mph on ocean beaches.

        Another fact that many people don’t realize but I am very grateful to is that WA does not allow commercial billboard ads to be generally visible from scenic state or interstate highways under the Scenic Vistas Act Chapter 47.42 RCW

        Other states I drove through over the years, it becomes greatly tiring to have to continually see billboards splattered everywhere even in scenic areas where one would hope to experience nature and get away from corporate, in your fact, type adverts. You generally do not find this in Washington. (there are a few areas such as where Indian Reservations envelope the highway)

        1. I included a couple videos to demonstrate the liberation from billboard signs we enjoy here.

          The below video depicts a journey from Seattle to Portland. I forgot to mention, the state does provide certain forms of advertising for Food , Lodging, etc but these signs must be contained on a state provided sign, these are the blue signs that pop up occasionally. Also there are a couple reservations on I-5 where billboards are displayed. One of these is at 4:05 from Milton through Fife. I recommend speeding up the video 2x to have this go faster.


  9. Where I worked as police officer manymany years ago holding the key in your hand approaching the car was intent to operate and a sobriety test could be administered. If failed a BA added but the main purpose was to keep people from driiving while intoxicated. We or the station used two options one held for observation and the other was contacting another family member to be brought in to operate the vehicle. Of course evereyone knew everybody so the worst that could happen is they got a safe place to sleep it off. To keep it legal the report was provided to the magistratre for review and it did constitute a legal arrest but nothing came of it and no one was hurt, injured, or damaged. But that was with the support of the whole community. Wouldn’t work in most places as ‘some’ might object.

    1. Years ago at Jersey shore, I was approaching my vehicle at around 4 am, way too drunk to drive, but was going to do so. 2police officers witnessed me and my friend going to my car. As I started to put the key in the door the officers pulled up and asked if I was planning to drive. When I told them, yes, they suggested that it might not be such a good idea. I agreed with them. To my surprise they told me to make sure my car was locked, and DROVE US BACK TO OUR BEACH HOUSE! Couldn’t believe it then, and have always been so grateful to them. I was only 21, and they could have let me be stupid, and punished me for it.

  10. A dirt bike is a motor vehicle. It can’t go in the ocean. Everywhere else is possible, including indoors. The judge is brain-damaged.

  11. This case is a clear example of how so many judges, of the highest levels, lack common sense or allow personal bias & or opinion to color their rulings.

    This is also another example of Judicial Activism. The Judges clearly felt he was going to drunk drive if the police did not pull up and they wish to punish him for his intent and not for his actual actions. To do so they have created new law by expanding existing law.

  12. If you have to use a dictionary in this manner to support the arrest, the law is flawed and the case should be dismissed. Imo, “… including an area designated for the parking of vehicles…” was intended to mean parking lots in commercial areas, not a private driveway and I didn’t a dictionary, just common sense.

  13. Justice McCormack’s lone dissent is the only correct opinion. The majority opinion is just ridiculous and Michigan lawyers are shaking their heads over it.

  14. The Garage is plainly within the curtilage, so I think it has some special status derived from that – regardless of the language of this statute, I am troubled by the officer entering the Curtilage without a warrant to simply investigate a non-felony complaint. So, regardless of the statute – I think everything is fruit of the poisoned tree.

    Simply my opinion, but I believe they are making the wrong argument here.

  15. When I first read this, I thought it was over-reach. However, it does fall within the statutory limits.

    1. Paul, It’s still an overreach. Do you allow just anyone to come park in your drive? Didn’t think so.

      1. No, but you do allow people(friends, family and other visitors) to pull into your driveway if they are coming to your home. Therefore, the driveway is accessible to other vehicles.

    2. Just because Law states something doesnt make it Unconstitutional

      “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”
      Thomas Jefferson

  16. The phrase “generally accessible to motor vehicles” does not seem to impose a requirement of particular vehicle ownership, I.e. if the homeowner can access the driveway with his vehicle, so can anyone else.

  17. Dumb ruling. The Court stretched common sense to get this guy. In some states, you see a similar problem with “Public Drunkeness”, when the drunk is arrested on their own property, and in their own home. The cases usually get thrown out, and the drunk got to cool his heels in jail overnight.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Really, it’s an issue of private property. Does civil government have the power to rescind the “man’s home is his castle” principle that is a foundation of English Common Law? Who do these people think they are? You can drive 250 miles an hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because it’s private property. You can do it drunk, too, if the owners allow it, and the state has nothing to say about it.

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