Michigan Supreme Court Overturns OWI Ruling


Case: People v. Rea

Court: Michigan Supreme Court ( Opinion )

Judges: Bernstein, Markman, Zahra, and Wilder; Concurring in the result only – Larsen; Dissent – McCormack and Viviano

Issues:

The Michigan Vehicle Code (MCL 257.1 et seq.); Whether the defendant may be charged under MCL 257.625 for operating a motor vehicle in his private driveway while intoxicated; Statutory interpretation; People v. Hill; People v. Miller; People v. Feeley; Whether his driveway was “generally accessible to motor vehicles”; MCL 257.625(1); “Generally accessible” defined; "Motor vehicle" defined; MCL 257.33; People v. Kowalski; People v. Nickerson; “Open to the general public”

Summary:

The court held that the defendant’s driveway was an area “generally accessible to motor

vehicles” for purposes of MCL 257.625(1). Because he “allegedly operated a motor vehicle in his driveway while intoxicated, the prosecution established probable cause that” he violated MCL 257.625. Thus, the court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court’s dismissal of the case, and remanded to the trial court. The issue was whether defendant’s driveway was “generally accessible to motor vehicles.” The court held that “as a whole, 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.” The Legislature amended MCL 257.625(1) “to include an area not previously covered under the statute: a place that is ‘generally accessible to motor vehicles.’ This amendment broadened the scope of the OWI statute to include an additional, alternative place where operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated is prohibited.” The phrase “‘generally accessible to motor vehicles’ must be meaningfully distinguished from the phrase ‘open to the general public.’ ‘Open to the general public’ concerns who may access the location, while ‘generally accessible to motor vehicles’ concerns what can access the location.” Defendant’s “driveway is a place motor vehicles are usually capable of entering.” As such, it was generally accessible to motor vehicles under MCL 257.625(1). Therefore, MCL 257.625 encompasses his private driveway. The Court of Appeals majority did not properly apply the plain meaning of MCL 257.625(1) because it failed to distinguish between “open to the general public” and “generally accessible to motor vehicles.” Thus, the Court of Appeals erred by upholding the trial court’s order to quash the information. Believing that driveways are “generally accessible to motor vehicles,” Justice Larsen would resolve the case on its own facts and leave for a future case the determination of the precise boundaries of MCL 257.625(1). Thus, she concurred in the judgment only. The dissent believed that the court “must read the language ‘generally accessible to motor vehicles’ in MCL 257.625(1) as meaning something more specific than just whether a place is ‘usually capable of being [physically] reached’ by motor vehicles, and that defendant was entitled as a matter of law to dismissal of the charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated. They would affirm the result reached by the Court of Appeals.

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