In Oakland County, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that an intoxicated man could not be charged with drunken driving while moving a vehicle in his driveway.
Police were attracted to the scene by noise emanating from the vehicle in which a man named Rea sat listening to music. After the third request for Rea to turn down the music, the police officer saw Rea back out of his garage and down his driveway. At all times, Rea was either in his side yard or in his own backyard.
Although Rea never made it past the end of his driveway, and in all only went about twenty five feet before stopping, he was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
A trial judge, however, ultimately dismissed Rea’s case and the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s decision. The decision to dismiss Rea’s case hinged on the actual wording of the Michigan statute, which states that a driver cannot operate a vehicle while intoxicated “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 court; however, determined that a driveway is not considered generally accessible to the public and therefore found that Rea did not violate the statute. Because Rea’s driveway was a private residential area, he could not be said to be driving on a public road. The court found that law enforcement failed to establish probable cause to believe the defendant operated a vehicle upon a place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles.
The Court argued that if the Legislature had intended to include every place in which it is physically possible to drive a car then the Legislature would have written the statute that way. As a result, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s opinion and found that Rea had committed no crime for his actions.
While it remains uncertain whether the Michigan legislature will reword the appropriate statute to get around the Court’s ruling, the case does raise some interesting issues. One wonders how a court would rule when a driver operates a vehicle on a highway and is then pulled over in his own driveway or when someone gets arrested for drunk driving for simply sitting in their car without the key in the ignition.
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