A Driveway DUI? The Case of People v. Rea

Posted by Richard Lawson | Aug 04, 2017 | 0 Comments

Everyone knows that driving while intoxicated is against the law. How far this law stretches is something that the courts have been determining for years and will likely continue to wrestle with for years to come. A decision recently handed down by the Michigan Supreme Court added to the ever growing body of DUI law. In the case of People v. Rea, the court was tasked with deciding whether or not a Michigan resident could get a DUI in his own driveway. Unfortunately for the defendant involved, the court answered the question in the affirmative.

In Rea, officers responded numerous times to noise complaints that had been lodged by defendant Rea's neighbor in March of 2014. On the third visit back, the officer observed Rea behind the wheel and starting to back out of his driveway. Once Rea spotted the officer, he pulled back into his garage and got out of the car. The officer observed signs of intoxication from the defendant including bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Rea was subsequently and charged with operating while intoxicated. Before the case went to trial, Rea filed a motion to quash the information, which the trial court granted, finding that “the upper portion of defendant's driveway did not constitute an area that is ‘generally accessible to motor vehicles' for purposes of criminal liability under MCL 257.625(1).” The case was subsequently dismissed. The court of appeals affirmed this decision, “holding that the upper portion of the driveway did not constitute a place generally accessible to motor vehicles because ‘[t]he ‘general public' is not ‘widely'. . . permitted to ‘access' that portion of a private driveway immediately next to a private residence.'” The prosecution then appealed to the Supreme Court of Michigan, which agreed to hear the case.

The high court looked at “'whether the location where the defendant was operating a vehicle was a place within the purview of MCL 257.625.'” The statute at issue states the following:

“A person, whether licensed or not, shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area designated for the parking of vehicles, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.”

The case hinged on what exactly “generally accessible to motor vehicles” meant. Parsing through the definitions of the words “generally” and “accessible,” the Michigan Supreme Court determined that “the plain and ordinary meaning of the phrase ‘generally accessible' means ‘usually capable of being reached.'” The court went on to decide what this phrase meant within the context of the statute as a whole and in doing so reached the conclusion that “the relevant statutory provision prohibits an intoxicated person from operating a vehicle in a place that is usually capable of being reached by self-propelled vehicles.” Driveways are a location that is generally capable of being reached by a car and as such, the court held that the “defendant's driveway was generally accessible to motor vehicles under MCL 257.625(1).” The court concluded that "[b]ecause defendant allegedly operated a motor vehicle in his driveway while intoxicated, the prosecution established probable cause that defendant violated [the DUI statute]."

The court then reversed the appellate court's ruling, vacated the dismissal of the case, and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

As this case goes to show, people can find themselves facing DUI charges in all sorts of circumstances. If you have been charged with driving under the influence while in the state of Georgia, please do not hesitate to contact Georgia DUI attorney Richard Lawson today.

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