DUI on Private Property
There is a common misconception amongst the public that individuals cannot be charged with drunk driving if they are operating a vehicle on private property. This misunderstanding has unfortunately led to the arrest and conviction of many individuals who thought they were legally in the clear to drive their car when above the legal limit as long as they were not on public roads. Having prior knowledge of how this works can help individuals avoid an unnecessary legal situation with potentially life altering consequences.
Covered under Michigan Vehicle Code Section 257.625, getting a DUI on Private Property is possible if that property is open to the public or accessible to other vehicles from public roadways. This includes places such as a private driveway, parking lot, or any other area that can be accessed by the public. Basically, this means that just because it is private property, vehicle operators are not automatically excluded from the state’s drunk driving statutes.
Where Can this Occur?
As previously mentioned, this can occur on any private property that is accessible or open to the public. However sometimes there is some confusion as to how far this goes in real world situations. Many individuals mistakenly believe that as long as they did not drive drunk on public roads prior to being on private property that they are in the clear.
A common example of this would be driving to a bar sober, then leaving at a later point intoxicated and proceeding to sit in their car in order to sober up without leaving the parking lot. If they are in the driver’s seat and/or in a position to be able to physically operate the vehicle, they can in fact be charged with a DUI in this situation, because the parking lot is easily accessible to the public.
This can even occur in a private residential driveway. A well known case where this occurred involved Gino Rea of Northville in 2014. Mr. Rea was charged with a DUI after moving his car in and out of his garage but never leaving his driveway. Even though his tires never touched the public street, he was still arrested and charged with drunk driving on private property, as his BAC was three times the legal limit and his driveway was technically accessible to the public. Had his driveway been gated or otherwise closed off, he would not have been charged. The case actually made its way up to the Michigan Supreme Court, who agreed with the original conviction from 35th District Court in Plymouth.
Seemingly insignificant details such as this make all the difference in private property drunk driving cases, which is why hiring an experienced drunk driving defense attorney can be so critical in uncovering potential defenses to these charges. This is especially true when the circumstances surrounding the charge are even more vague, such as an individual driving their vehicle in a private open field or in their backyard. Is this accessible to the public? Possibly, but how reasonable is this in reality? Since this enters a grey area open to interpretation, many individuals get unfairly charged with drunk driving on their own property.
Defenses Against Drunk Driving Charges on Private Property
In cases involving charges of operating while intoxicated (OWI), the question of whether the offense occurred on public or private property is self-explanatory and therefore not relevant to a defense strategy. However, what is relevant is whether or not the area in which the vehicle was being operated in was open to the public.
The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and if they are not able to show beyond reasonable doubt that the property was open and accessible to the public, then this should be enough for a judge to dismiss the charges or the jury to find the defendant not guilty. A skilled drunk driving lawyer will be able to cast reasonable doubt upon these charges, and find holes in the prosecution’s arguments that cannot be effectively refuted.