If you follow our blog regularly, you’ll remember an article we posted a few months ago about a man in Michigan who was arrested for drunk driving in his own driveway. The case made headlines as it traveled through the courts and ended up before the Michigan Supreme Court, where a solution has finally been found. Curious about how it all happened? It all started in a driveway in Northville, Michigan, near Detroit.
It was March of 2014. A couple of Northville police officers were dispatched to a house for a noise disruption complaint. Someone was playing loud music that was annoying the neighbors. The cops arrived and discovered an intoxicated Gino Rea listening to music in his car, which was parked in his driveway. They asked him to turn it down. He did. And then as soon as they left, he turned it back up again.
The police officers came back twice more, both times because Rea refused to turn down his music. On their third arrival, Rea’s vehicle had moved and was parked in his garage. As the officers walked up the driveway, Rea backed his car down towards the street, as if preparing to leave the property. Then, he suddenly changed his mind and drove back up the driveway and into the garage. The result? The officers arrested him for drunk driving.
Their logic? He was drinking. He was driving. That makes it drunk driving. Rea’s argument? Sure, he was drinking, and he was definitely driving. Technically. But does it count if he never even left his own property?
The case was a contentious one, with people on both sides of the debate weighing in…
An Oakland County Circuit Court judge threw out the charges, claiming they didn’t apply. In response, the Oakland County Prosecutor appealed the decision, and took the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The appellate court agreed with the Oakland County judge in a 2 to 1 vote. Their argument? Drunk driving charges refer to driving drunk in an area that’s “generally accessible” to other vehicles. A private driveway, they said, is not considered to be generally accessible. Again, the Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney appealed the ruling. This time, the appeal went to the Michigan Supreme Court.
A full three years after the incident, our Supreme Court finally heard the case, and their ruling is the final word – driving under the influence of alcohol in your own driveway MAY STILL count as a DUI. A recently released Michigan State Police legal update spelled out the information for officers, and explaining the high court’s decision.
“The Supreme Court held that whether a vehicle is operated in a place “generally accessible” to motor vehicles (as used in MCL 257.625(1)) is dependent upon whether the location is a place that is usually capable of being reached by a motor vehicle… The focus is not whether most people can access the area, but whether most motor vehicles can access the area.”
In other words, according to our Supreme Court, if an area can be reached by a motor vehicle, it counts as “generally accessible” to motor vehicle. So a driveway, which is accessible to motor vehicles, counts as being “generally accessible.” So even if it’s a private driveway, it still counts. Which means that drinking alcohol and driving your car up and down your own driveway, even if you never leave your own property, could still result in a DUI charge in our state.
Drunk driving charges in Michigan can be complex. There is a lot more involved than many people realize, and this case is a good example of how many grey areas there might be when it comes to the criminal laws of our state. So if you or a loved one have been accused of drunk driving, call 866 766 5245 to speak to an experienced drunk driving defense attorney at The Kronzek Firm. We have spent decades defending the people of Michigan against DUI charges, and we can help you too!