Drunk driving is against the law, no doubt about it. But according to the Michigan Court of Appeals, that law may not extend to your own driveway. In a recent decision, the Court of Appeals has upheld a local judge’s decision to dismiss drunk driving charges against a Northville, MI man who, although intoxicated at the wheel, never left his own driveway.
Court records reveal that the Northville Police were called out to the scene for a noise disruption complaint that had to do with loud music. Officers came three separate times to the same address to talk to the man involved and to ask him to turn down his music. The police said it was clear that he had been drinking.
But once there for the third time, they noted the man sitting in his cadillac, backing out of his driveway. The man drove about 25 feet down the length of his own driveway then appeared to change his mind about going out and drove back into his own garage. Not once did he leave his own property.
The man, who was believed to be intoxicated at the time, was arrested and charged for drunk driving. But a judge in the Oakland County Court threw out the charges on the grounds that the intoxicated man had not left his own driveway.
The Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney appealed the judge’s decision to the Michigan Court of Appeals. There, the decision was made in a 2 to 1 vote, to uphold the judge’s decision to dismiss the drunk driving charges. The reasoning provided by the appellate court’s ruling was that the law defines drunk driving as driving under the influence of intoxicants in an area that is “generally accessible” to other vehicles. A private driveway by definition, is not considered to be generally accessible.
In the court’s written findings, they described their decision as follows: “Had the legislature wanted to criminalize driving while intoxicated in one’s own driveway, it could have outlawed the operation of a motor vehicle in any place ‘accessible to motor vehicles,’ omitting the adverb ‘generally,’…The commonly understood and dictionary-driven meanings of the term ‘generally’ in this context compel the conclusion that the legislature meant to limit the reach.”
We applaud the Court of Appeals for their unbiased and fair finding. This reiterates what our criminal defense team already knows. Being charged with drunk driving does not mean that you’re guilty and without hope of a dismissal. In the case and always, the right defense attorney is critical.