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Driveway DUI’s: Michigan Court Rules it Not Unlawful to Drive Drunk in Own Driveway

Dec 30th, 2016 DUI DUI Stops DUI Enforcement Driveway DUI’s: Michigan Court Rules it Not Unlawful to Drive Drunk in Own Driveway

Disclaimer: This case was overruled by the more recent Michigan Supreme Court case of People v. Rea.

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently ruled that a person may drive drunk in their own driveway.  The name of the case is People v. Rea, 315 Mich. App. 151 (2016), and in this case, after having “a lot” to drink the defendant decided he wanted to listen to some music. So, he drove his car from his garage to a point in his private driveway in line with his house.  A neighbor didn’t like the defendant’s taste in music and called in the loud music.  Thereafter, two police officers responded to the 911 call.

When they arrived, the defendant was seated in the driver’s seat, with the driver’s side door open. According to the court’s opinion, the “vehicle was parked deep in defendant’s driveway, next to his house.”  One of the officers told him to turn down the music, and then left.  At some point the neighbor called again, and when one of the officers returned, he could not see the defendant’s car.  The neighbor called a third time and this time when the police arrived the officer observed that the garage door was opened, “and defendant’s vehicle backed out for “about 25 feet” before stopping still within the defendant’s yard and property. He then pulled the car back into the garage. He was arrested as he walked toward his house.”

The law in Michigan, which is found at Michigan Compiled Laws sec. 257.625, provides in part as follows:

Sec. 625.

(1) 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.

Thinking that this law did not cover a driveway, the defendant’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that a person’s driveway is not “generally accessible to motor vehicles.”  In this regard, the court indicated that “generally accessible” in the current statute modifies the noun phrase “other place.” The statute thereby prohibits intoxicated driving upon a highway or upon an “other place . . . generally accessible to motor vehicles.”

In analyzing the facts, and applying them to this law, the court first established that a residential driveway is private property according to Michigan Complied Laws, sec. 257.44. Nevertheless, the court goes on to indicate in its opinion that reasonable fact finders could not differ that the portion of a driveway close to one’s home is not open to the general public because members of the general public are not generally permitted to access this portion of one’s driveway.

The court distinguished this portion of the driveway from that closest to the street indicating that “it is a place accessible to a small subset of the universe of motor vehicles: those belonging to the homeowner, or those using the driveway with permission. This particular area of defendant’s driveway is akin to a moat; it is an area which strangers are forbidden to cross but defendant could wade at will.”

Because this part of the driveway closest to the home is not generally open to the public the court found that Rea’s drunk driving charge was not sustainable.