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CRIMINAL 1: Did you know you could be arrested for OWI in your private driveway?

The Michigan Supreme Court found that defendant's private driveway was an area generally accessible to motor vehicles.  Because defendant allegedly operated a motor vehicle in his driveway while intoxicated, this was probable cause for OWI.

MCL 257.625(1) of the Michigan Vehicle Code prohibits an intoxicated person from operating a motor vehicle in a place that is usually capable of being reached by other vehicles. Here, defendant was arrested for operating a motor vehicle on his private driveway while intoxicated after refusing to take field sobriety tests.

Police officers were dispatched three times to defendant’s home because of a neighbor’s noise complaints. On the third visit, a Northville police officer parked his patrol vehicle in the street in front of defendant’s driveway.  As Officer walked up defendant’s driveway to investigate the noise complaint, the overhead garage door opened, and defendant started to back his car down the driveway. After Officer shined his flashlight to alert defendant of his presence, defendant stopped his car, coming to a rest in the driveway, next to his house. When Officer approached defendant, who had remained in his car, the officer noticed a strong odor of intoxicants. Officer also observed that defendant’s eyes were glassy and blood shot and his speech was slurred. Defendant suddenly put the car in drive and pulled forward into the garage, bumping into stored items in the back of the garage. Defendant then got out of the car and started to walk toward Officer, swaying as he walked.

Officer asked defendant to perform field sobriety tests, but defendant refused. Defendant was then arrested for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. A blood test later conducted at a hospital revealed a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.

The Oakland County Prosecuting Attorney charged defendant with one count of operating while intoxicated (OWI). Following a preliminary examination, defendant was bound over to the Oakland Circuit Court, where he moved to quash the information. The trial court granted defendant’s motion and dismissed the case, 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). In a split, published opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The prosecution then sought leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court.  The Michigan Supreme Court held that defendant’s driveway is an area “generally accessible to motor vehicles” for purposes of MCL 257.625(1).  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. Because defendant allegedly operated a motor vehicle in his driveway while intoxicated, the prosecution established probable cause that defendant violated MCL 257.625. Accordingly, the Michigan Supreme Court reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacate the trial court’s dismissal of the case, and remand to the trial court for further proceedings.

There is no denying that Michigan has harsh punishments for drinking and driving; jail, probation and license suspension are all possible. Retaining a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney who is committed to protecting your rights as soon as you are charged is essential. Whether you are in Wayne County, Washtenaw County or Oakland County, schedule a free consultation with Aldrich Legal Services. We can provide you with the representation you need.

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