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Can You Get a DUI in Your Driveway?

When we normally think of drunk driving arrests, we get images of cars swerving on the highway, DUI checkpoints, or, worse, accidents. These are all instances out on the public's highways and byways where we expect police to be patrolling and where the danger to other drivers can be serious.

Some of us think that if you can make it home before getting pulled over, you can avoid a DUI. Or that you can't be charged with drunk driving if you never left your own property. But that might not be the case. The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week that prosecutors can proceed with DUI charges against a man found intoxicated behind the wheel in his own driveway.

Defining a Driveway

Gino Rea never made it off his property in March 2014, when an officer responding to a noise complaint saw Rea start to back his car out of his garage, then pull back in when the officer shone a light on the car. It turns out Rea's BAC was three times the legal limit, and he was charged with OWI (operating while intoxicated) under Michigan law, but moved to dismiss the charges, claiming his driveway did not constitute an area that is "generally accessible to motor vehicles."

The trial court and the court of appeals agreed, but the state supreme court did not. The majority ruled that "when determining whether a place is generally accessible to motor vehicles, the focus is not on whether most people can access the area or have permission to use it but on whether most motor vehicles can access the area." In that vein, the court continued, Rea's driveway "was designed for vehicular travel and there was nothing on his driveway that would have prevented motor vehicles on the public street from turning into it," therefore it was generally accessible to motor vehicles under the Michigan's OWI law.

DUI Definitions

The ruling means Rea will have to face the drunk driving charges in court, where perhaps he'll find a jury more sympathetic than Michigan's Supreme Court justices. But as his case demonstrates, DUI laws can cover a lot more situations than your standard swerving-after-having-too-much-to-drink traffic stop.

If you've been charged with a drunk driving offense, standard or otherwise, contact an experienced DUI attorney today.

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