Operating While Intoxicated in Your Own Driveway
On Monday, the Michigan Supreme Court decided an interesting operating while intoxicated [OWI] case. After pulling out of his garage, the man was arrested for drunk driving.
Here Are the Facts
In People v Rea, neighbors of the accused complained to police about the noise next-door. An officer positioned his vehicle at the base of the man’s driveway, stepping-out to investigate the complaint.
The officer observed the man pull-out of the garage in his car. He flashed his light into the vehicle, alerting the driver to his presence. At that point, the man returned to the garage, striking some boxes along the way.
Upon further investigation, the officer noted the strong odor of alcohol and the slurred speech of the driver. After refusing a PBT, the driver was arrested for OWI. His blood alcohol eventually tested at nearly 3x the legal limit.
Now-retired lawyer, Tim Barkovic, persuaded former Oakland Circuit Judge Colleen O’Brien to grant his motion to quash the information. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal in a published opinion.
Michigan law prohibits drivers from operating a vehicle while intoxicated, “upon a highway or other place open to the public or generally accessible to motor vehicles.” This case turned on the definition of the “generally accessible” phrase.
The Supreme Court Rules on Operating While Intoxicated
In reversing both the Court of Appeals and the trial court, the Supreme Court concluded:
Defendant’s driveway is designed for vehicular travel. Areas designed for vehicular travel, are by their nature, areas a vehicle is usually capable of accessing. Additionally, there is nothing on defendant’s driveway that would prevent motor vehicles on the public street from turning into it. Given these facts, defendant’s driveway is a place motor vehicles are usually capable of entering. Accordingly, we conclude that defendant’s driveway was generally accessible to motor vehicles under [the drunk driving statute].
The High Court’s analysis asserted that the intermediate appellate court erred by focusing on who had access to the driveway and garage rather than what objects [i.e. defendant’s vehicle] had general accessibility to these areas.
In her concurring opinion, Justice Joan Larsen remarked that the facts of this case easily fit within the statutory phrase, “generally accessible to motor vehicles”. She would have waited for a more challenging fact pattern to determine the precise meaning of this statutory phrase.
For example, what if the accused was sitting in his vehicle in the garage and had yet to pull-out onto the driveway? That may have been a closer case from a factual perspective.
Justices Bridget McCormack and David Viviano dissented, asserting the at-issue statutory phrase does not include a private driveway. Again, perhaps a more challenging fact pattern would have made better law.
Free Consultation – Operating While Intoxicated
So there you have it: sitting in a car in one’s own driveway subjects a person to a drunk driving charge. If you are facing an OWI, contact our firm to discuss your options.