Everyone knows that if you are intoxicated by alcohol or drugs and then get into a vehicle to drive, then you become subject to prosecution under Michigan’s DUI laws. However, did you know that you can get into trouble with the law if you allow ANOTHER person to operate your vehicle while intoxicated? If you gave permission, you don’t even have to be in the car or truck. The Michigan Legislature places responsibility on vehicle owners to make sure that individuals behind their wheel are in a condition that doesn’t endanger others. Failure to comply with these rules can result in fines and even possible incarceration.
A person is guilty of allowing an intoxicated individual to operate a motor vehicle, contrary to MCL 257.625(2), if the prosecutor can prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- First, that the other person was operating a motor vehicle, meaning they had actual physical control of the vehicle. A motor vehicle, defined by MCL 257.19, is “every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices exclusively moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks…”. Besides cars and trucks, this definition can include go-carts, snowmobiles and dune buggies if operated upon a highway. If the police arrive and the car is not running, it is possible for the prosecutor to establish circumstantial evidence of operating such as the hood and tires being warm from recent operation.
- Second, that the individual owned the motor vehicle that the other person was operating.
- Third, that the other person was operating the vehicle on a highway or another place open to the public or generally accessible to the motor vehicles. This definition is VERY BROAD and, recently, the Michigan Supreme Court held that a private driveway was “generally accessible to motor vehicles” for the purpose of sustaining a drunk driving conviction under MCL 257.625(1). See People v Rea, 500 Mich 422; 902 NW2d 362 (2017).
- Fourth, that, at the time the other person was operating the motor vehicle, ANY of the following applied:
- The other person is under the influence of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, other intoxicating substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance. MCL 257.625(2)(a).
- The other person has an alcohol content of 0.08 grams or more per 100 milliliters of blood, per 210 liters of breath, or per 67 milliliters of urine. MCL 257.625(2)(b).
- The other person’s ability to operate the motor vehicle is visibly impaired due to the consumption of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance, or a combination of alcoholic liquor, a controlled substance, or other intoxicating substance. MCL 257.625(2)(c).
- Fifth, that the individual permitted the other person to operate their motor vehicle.
- Sixth, that, at the time that the other person operated the motor vehicle, the individual KNEW that the other person was under the influence or visibly impaired due the consumption of alcoholic liquor or a controlled substance.
The penalties for allowing an intoxicated individual to operate a motor vehicle are as follows:
- If the offense resulted in the death of another person, the penalty is a felony conviction punishable by a fine between $1,500.00 and $10,000.00 or up to 5 years in state prison, or both. MCL 257.625(10)(c).
- If the offense resulted in the serious impairment of a body function of another person, the penalty is a felony conviction punishable by a fine between $1,000.00 and $5,000.00 or up to 2 years in state prison, or both. MCL 257.625(10)(b).
- Otherwise, for any other circumstance, the penalty is a misdemeanor conviction punishable by a fine between $100.00 and $500.00 or up to 93 days in jail, or both. MCL 257.625(10)(a).
There are no licensing sanctions related to any convictions under this statute.
Since the person accused of this crime is often not present at the time of initial police contact, the prosecutor runs into many problems in proving that this crime occurred. An individual charged with allowing an intoxicated individual to operate a motor vehicle may be able to assert one or more of the following defenses:
- DID NOT OWN VEHICLE: It is not enough that a person merely “possessed” the vehicle (e.g. a parent owns a car or truck for the benefit of the adult child to drive). The adult child could not be criminally liable for letting a friend drive while intoxicated if he or she did not have legal title to the vehicle.
- DID NOT GIVE PERMISSION: There is no criminal liability if the other person took the owner’s keys without permission to operate the vehicle. The permission to drive must be express or implied by the owner to the other person under the circumstances.
- DID NOT KNOW OTHER PERSON WAS INTOXICATED: If the other person had permission to drive the vehicle (but drove to the bar and became intoxicated before driving again), then there is no criminal liability for the owner. The other person must already be intoxicated or visibly impaired at the time that permission was given.
Michigan has taken a tough stand against drunk driving and pushes responsibility upon the vehicle owners whether they were driving or not. However, the prosecutor has the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and a knowledgeable and skilled criminal defense lawyer will hold them to that standard. If you are accused of any drunk driving offense, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.