Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be on a public road to be pulled over, questioned and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in Michigan. MCL 257.625(1) states “[a] person… shall not operate a vehicle (1) upon a highway; or (2) other place open to the general public or (3) other place generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.” What does it mean for a location to be considered “generally accessible to motor vehicles”?
In People v Rea, 500 Mich 422, 452;902 NW2d 362 (2017), a police officer responded to a noise complaint in Oakland County and parked on the street in front of Defendant Gino Rea’s driveway. As the officer walked up to the house, the defendant backed out of his garage and down the driveway in his vehicle. The officer shined his flashlight to alert Mr. Rea that he was in the driveway and the defendant promptly stopped his vehicle while still on his property. He then put the vehicle in drive and pulled back into his garage, bumping into stacked items in the rear before stopping. Mr. Rea then got out of the car and walked towards the police officer. His speech was slurred, his breath smelled of alcohol and he refused to perform field sobriety tests. He was later arrested and his blood alcohol level was determined to be .242 grams per milliliters of blood, over three times the legal limit. Mr. Rea was charged with one count of operating while intoxicated. The Oakland County Circuit Court granted the defendant’s motion to quash the information and dismissed the case, finding that the upper portion of Mr. Rea’s driveway did not constitute an area that is “generally accessible to motor vehicles” under MCL 257.625(1). The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed and found that the upper portion of the driveway was not generally accessible to motor vehicles because the general public is not widely permitted to “access” that portion of a private driveway immediately next to a private residence. The prosecuting attorney appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
In a split decision, the Michigan Supreme Court overruled the two lower courts and found that Mr. Rea’s driveway was an area that is “generally accessible to motor vehicles” without distinguishing the upper or lower sections. The majority determined that “generally accessible” means “usually capable of being reached”. In this case, the defendant’s driveway was designed for motor vehicles and there was no obstructions that would have prevented other motor vehicles on the public street from entering it. As a result, the defendant’s charge was reinstated and his case was remanded back to the circuit court.
The two dissenting justices did not agree that the statutory language was intended to include private driveways. They believed that the majority’s broad interpretation of “generally accessible” conflicts with the language “open to the general public” and effective bans in all places the operation of a vehicle while intoxicated in Michigan. If the Legislature wanted the phrase “generally accessible” to mean every place in the state, then they would not have gone through the trouble of creating three categories where operating while intoxicated was prohibited. Despite their concerns, they were outvoted and the DUI statute extends to the private property of individual homeowners despite the historical application to areas open to the general public.
It remains to be seen if the “generally accessible” determination will extend into lawns or open fields. There are no published appellate decisions that have ruled on this. In People v Krzeminski, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals decided May 21, 2019 (Docket No. 344671), the defendant was arrested in an open field behind his residence and charged with operating while intoxicated – third offense. The defense presented that witnesses only seen him drive his truck in the open field and not on the highway so his conduct was not covered by the statute. However, the trial court found this argument misstated the facts and that the evidence supported the conclusion that the defendant had driven his truck on the highway prior to going into the field. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed and found that this case was not ripe for adjudication on the question of whether the open field was open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles for purposes of MCL 257.625(1). Sooner or later, the test case will come. You can expect that our law firm will stay on top of these developments as they happen.
If you are accused of any drunk driving offense and need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact the experienced attorneys at Kershaw, Vititoe & Jedinak PLC today.