Back in July, the Michigan Supreme Court held that an individual can, in fact, be arrested for DWI in his/her own driveway. Essentially, it ruled that motorists are not safe from DUI laws while on private property—even one’s own.
In State of Michigan v. Gino Robert Rea, the court held that the defendant’s driveway is an area that is generally accessible to other motor vehicles under state law. Thus, since the defendant allegedly operated his motor vehicle in his driveway while under the influence, there is probable cause that he broke the law.
Facts of the case
Back in 2014, an officer responding to three separate noise complaints in one day on Rea’s property found the defendant intoxicated while backing out of his driveway. When Rea saw the officer, he reentered his garage and was promptly arrested. When tested following his arrest, Rea’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was three times the legal limit.
Pursuant to MCL 257.625(1), a person “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” [emphasis added].
Critics attack the semantics of the law by asserting that this prohibition should not apply to every place but only highways and/or other places that are open to the general public and are generally accessible by any self-propelled vehicles.
A note about driveways
Under this law, one’s driveway is likened to a road that is generally accessible by other motor vehicles; however, with respect to other laws, one’s driveway has been treated like an extension to one’s own home. For example, the Castle Doctrine permits the use of lethal force to protect one’s home. The concept of one’s driveway as an extension of the home was illustrated in a Georgia case where an individual shot and killed a man who mistakenly pulled into the shooter’s driveway who escaped murder charges in exchange for a plea bargain to involuntary manslaughter.
So, how can one’s driveway be an extension of one’s home and akin to a public road simultaneously? What if one has a long driveway that is not generally accessible to the public? These questions remain unanswered.
The Court’s Decision
In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s dismissal of Rea’s case. Instead, the majority agreed that the police department could, in fact, charge the defendant with drunk driving even if his vehicle never left his driveway.
The Court interpreted the statute that since the Vehicle Code did not define what “generally accessible” meant, then the determination should not rely on whether most people have permission to or can access the area but, instead, whether other motor vehicles can access the area. Since the defendant’s driveway was designed for vehicular travel and there was no barrier on the street to prevent others from turning into it such as a gate, then the defendant’s driveway was, indeed, generally accessible to other motor vehicles under the statute.
The two dissenting justices argued that the majority assumed erroneously that the Michigan Legislature intended to add individual homeowners’ private property into the scope of the drunk driving statute. They stated that, historically, the law focuses on areas generally open to the public without restriction.
Minnesota’s DWI laws state that it is illegal to operate, drive, or otherwise be in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or other hazardous substance, and the law does not distinguish between offenses on private and public roads, particularly if the private property is open to vehicle use such as store parking lots, stadium parking lots, private school and college campuses, golf courses, and private driveways.