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Can you be arrested for DUI in your own driveway?

Because of a rather unusual case that developed on private property, the Michigan Supreme Court has taken the definition of “driving” from street to driveway.

The high court had to make a determination concerning whether a driver who was intoxicated could be arrested for DUI if he had not left the confines of his own private driveway.

What happened

In answering a complaint about noise, a state trooper came to the residence of Gino Rea in Northville. The trooper parked at the curb and walked up the driveway. Mr. Rea was backing his car out of the garage to wash it, but upon noticing the officer, he pulled it back in, bumping into a few items that were stored there. The officer suspected that the man was intoxicated. Mr. Rea refused to take a sobriety test, but a subsequent blood test revealed that his blood alcohol content level was three times the legal limit. He had only moved his car a short distance out of the garage and back in, but the trooper arrested him for driving under the influence.

What the courts decided

Was he, in fact, driving? This was the question at the heart of the case. According to the views of two lower courts, Mr. Rea was not driving. Judges in the Oakland Circuit and state Appeals courts cited Michigan law, which prohibits drunk drivers “from operating a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to the general public.” However, the Supreme Court ruled five to two that the upper portion of Mr. Rea’s driveway was, in fact, open to the general public, even though the public would have to trespass to reach it.

What to do

You may feel that Mr. Rea's rights were summarily trampled by the Michigan Supreme Court, but the ruling stands. A criminal defense attorney will tell you that if you are arrested on a highway, in your driveway or anywhere else for drunk driving, you can expect that a thorough legal investigation will follow. Perhaps the best course of action, however, is not to drink too many beers while washing your car—or to at least turn the radio down. 

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