Criminal Justice

Drunken driving in one's own driveway is not a crime, state appeals court rules

  • Print.

It all began with a noise complaint from neighbors one day in May 2014.

Police visited the suburban Detroit home in question and determined that a resident had been drinking inside. Then he came outside and got into his Cadillac to listen to the music on the vehicle’s sound system. They asked him to turn down the sound, to no avail.

On the third police visit, an officer saw the resident back the Cadillac out of his garage and continue about 25 feet down his driveway. That resulted in a criminal charge of operating while intoxicated, reports

However, a trial judge dismissed the Oakland County Circuit Court case. A divided three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals this week said the trial court got it right.

The case turned on the definition of the phrase “generally accessible to motor vehicles” in a state statute prohibiting driving while under the influence.

“Had the legislature wanted to criminalize driving while intoxicated in one’s own driveway, it could have outlawed the operation of a motor vehicle in any place ‘accessible to motor vehicles,’ omitting the adverb ‘generally,’ ” the majority wrote. Hence, “[t]he commonly understood and dictionary-driven meanings of the term ‘generally’ in this context compel the conclusion that the legislature meant to limit the reach.”

A dissenting judge would have reinstated the drunken-driving charge. “I disagree with the majority’s conclusion that the area of defendant’s driveway on which he operated his vehicle was akin to a moat that strangers were forbidden to cross,” she wrote, “because it is unclear whether other vehicles were routinely permitted or forbidden to access the portion of defendant’s driveway on which he operated his vehicle.”

The man initially charged in the case is not identified in news coverage, but the story includes a photograph of his Northville driveway.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.