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A Better Partnership
April 27, 2016

Driving drunk in driveway is not operating while intoxicated

In People v. Rea, No. 324728, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that driving a car while intoxicated while in the upper portion of one’s own driveway is not a criminal offense.  Defendant was charged with operating while intoxicated, MCL 257.625(1), which provides that a person shall not operate a vehicle “upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles” if the person is operating while intoxicated.  In the presence of a police office, Defendant—while intoxicated—drove his car from within his garage twenty-five feet down his driveway and then back into his garage.  The circuit court granted Defendant’s motion to quash the information, resulting in the charges being dismissed, which the Court of Appeals affirmed.
Using the rules of grammar, the Court of Appeals relied on the plain language of the statute to resolve this question. It reasoned that “generally” modifies “accessible,” which together modify “other place.” As a result, using the dictionary definition of the relevant words, the Court held that the statute prohibits “intoxicated driving a highway or upon an ‘other place . . . generally accessible to the public.”  Since the only place that Defendant drove in his driveway was next to his house and not abutting the road, the Court held that this area was not a place generally accessible to motor vehicles. Rather the location was a place where few vehicles operate, namely that of the homeowner and his guests. Since the legislature use the word “generally accessible” in the statute, it did not intend to criminalize intoxicated driving everywhere. Judge Jansen dissented, arguing that the issue of whether Defendant’s driveway was generally accessible to the public is a question for the trier of fact to be decided after hearing the evidence.  Judge Jansen believes that evidence should have been presented regarding the frequency with which vehicles accessed the area of Defendant’s driveway in question.

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