Can You be Arrested for DUI in Your Own Driveway in Michigan?

The Michigan Supreme Court recently made a decision which could have considerable bearing on cases beyond the state’s borders, as the implications sink in.

It appears that a legal precedent has been set that someone who chooses to drink and drive on their own property, as long as it is not easily accessible by anyone else, can do so without being arrested.

The story behind the court’s decision is an interesting one. Not for the first time, a Michigan resident was arrested after he had been seen drinking and driving on his own property. The driver, Northville man Gina Rea, had been drinking in his car while the car had been parked outside his garage, but still on his own driveway. If it had only been a quiet drink, it would probably never have been noticed, but neighbors started to complain because he had been playing loud music from the car. It seems that it was the music, rather than the drinking, which initially drew the attention of the police.

The police made three visits to Rea’s residence where the drinking and music playing were taking place. On the first visit, they asked him to turn the music down. After they left, it appears that he turned it up again, leading to a second complaint from the neighbors. When the police arrived for the second time, there was no sign of Mr. Rea, or his car. After the third complaint, the police then saw Mr. Rea driving his car from his garage down the driveway towards the sidewalk and then back towards the garage. Perhaps he had spotted the police and decided to be prudent. That obviously didn’t work, because the police arrested him, not for playing loud music, but driving while under the influence (DUI).

Rea’s lawyer subsequently filed a motion to have the charge thrown out on the basis that the drinking took place while the car was on private property and not on a public highway.

The trial judge agreed with the motion and dismissed the charge, but the state decided to take it to appeal. That’s when the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals stepped in.

Like much law, the devil is in the detail, or at least the wording. The Michigan statute which defines what a DUI offense is, states that it is not legal to be intoxicated while “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.” The legal argument centered on what was recognized as “generally.”

The Supreme Court actually heard the case in a neighborhood school as part of their mission to be seen around the community. That’s when they decided to do some homework on what the word “generally” actually meant.

The state argued that Rea’s driveway was not separated from the public road outside his house by some kind of barrier, which means that it was “accessible” by the public. The defense argued that this did not mean that it was “generally accessible” as it was highly unlikely that anyone would wander up the driveway without being invited and therefore there was no likelihood of any danger to the public from a drunk driver on his own property.

The Supreme Court’s decision agreed with the defense and therefore this becomes a precedent for any future cases which are of a similar nature.

Decisions made in Michigan do not necessarily translate into law in any other state, but that doesn’t mean that the case has no significance beyond the state borders. If a similar case arises in any other U.S. state it is quite possible that the Michigan case will be noted and may influence a decision elsewhere.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Michigan but you think that the charge against you was unjustified for whatever reason, you should contact a DUI attorney at Abood Law in East Lansing or Birmingham, Michigan. There are many cases where DUI cases have been thrown out when the circumstances are investigated more thoroughly, as was the case with Gino Rea. You cannot be convicted of DUI, or any other criminal offense if there is sufficient doubt that the offense actually took place. Contact Abood Law on 517.332.5900 in East Lansing or 248.549.0000 in Birmingham.

Posted in Blog