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Michigan Supreme Court Says You Can Be Charged for Drunk Driving in Your Driveway

The Michigan Supreme Court held on Monday, July 24, 2017, that the Michigan Court of Appeals erred by affirming the trial court’s dismissal of the operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) charge against defendant, Gino Rea, in violation of MCL § 257.625(1).

In an opinion by Justice Richard Bernstein, joined by Chief Justice Markman and Justices Zahra and Wilder, the Michigan Supreme Court held that the Northville, Michigan Police Department could charge Gino Rea with drunken driving, even if his car never left the driveway.

In 2014, Northville police went to Rea’s home three times one day to respond to noise complaints.  At one point, an officer saw him drive out of the garage and pull back in. His blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit.

The Michigan Supreme Court held that MCL § 257.625(1) prohibits a person, whether licensed or not, from operating 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 the State if the person is operating while intoxicated. The phrase “generally accessible” in MCL § 257.625(1) is not defined by the Michigan Vehicle Code. In light of the dictionary definitions of those words, “generally accessible” means usually or ordinarily capable of being reached. In contrast to the phrase “open to the general public,” which concerns who may access the location, the phrase “generally accessible to motor vehicles” concerns what can access the location.

The Court continued:  “Accordingly, when determining whether a place is generally accessible to motor vehicles, the focus is not on whether most people can access the area or have permission to use it but on whether most motor vehicles can access the area. In context, MCL § 257.625(1) prohibits an intoxicated person from operating a motor vehicle in a place that is usually capable of being reached by self-propelled vehicles. Had the Michigan Legislature intended to prohibit driving while intoxicated only in areas actually used by motor vehicles, it would have used different language in the statute. In this case, defendant’s driveway was designed for vehicular travel and there was nothing on his driveway that would have prevented motor vehicles on the public street from turning into it. Accordingly, defendant’s driveway was generally accessible to motor vehicles for purposes of MCL §257.625(1).”

Dissenting Justices Bridget McCormack and David Viviano cautioned that the Court went too far to assume that the Michigan Legislature intended to extend the scope of the statute prohibiting OWI to include the private property of individual homeowners because the statute has historically focused on areas open to the general public without restriction.

Lexis Subscribers can find the opinion at: People v. Rea, 2017 Mich. LEXIS 1393 (Mich. 2017)
Lexis Advance subscribers can find the opinion at:  People v. Rea, 2017 Mich. LEXIS 1393


Author:  Gabriela N. Nolen, Lexis-Nexis Case Law Editor

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