Finley: Man’s driveway is not his castle, court rules

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Common sense would dictate that to be convicted of drunken driving you should actually be driving.

Toss common sense out the car window in Michigan, now that the state Supreme Court has expanded the definition of “driving” to include moving your vehicle up and down your own private driveway.

In a 5-2 ruling, the court decided a Northville man could be charged with drunken driving, even though he was arrested in his own driveway before reaching the street.

A state police trooper, responding to a noise complaint in 2014, parked his squad car in front of Gino Rea’s home. As the officer walked up the drive, Rea backed his car out of his garage. When he noticed the trooper, Rea pulled back into the garage, bumping into stored items.

Rea refused a field sobriety test, but his blood level later tested out at three times the legal limit. He was arrested for driving under the influence.

He was clearly drunk. But was he driving?

Two lower courts ruled that he was not, based on Michigan’s legal definition of what constitutes drunk driving.

The statute prohibits motorists under the influence of alcohol “from operating 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.”

The Oakland Circuit and state Appeals courts rightly hung up on the phrases “open to the general public or generally accessible.”

Most of us likely consider our driveways to be private, and not open to the public.

While a visitor might park in the drive, or a motorist might pull in to turn around, it seems highly improbable that either would be endangered by a drunken driveway driver.

But the Supreme Court majority disagreed, and in doing so did a bit of trampling on the state’s respect for private property.

The justices ruled that the upper portion of Rea’s driveway is indeed generally accessible to the public, notwithstanding they’d have to trespass to access it.

Justice Bridget McCormack, in dissent, captured the damage her colleagues did to civil liberties.

“Private property rights are, of course, central to our legal system—every person has ‘exclusive dominion over his own soil,’” McCormick wrote. “If a private citizen chooses to have a few beers while washing his car (or to wash his car while having a few beers), on a patch of his own land covered by a driveway, that is his right.”

And that’s why the rest of us should care. Because now if you’ve had one too many beers during the car washing and drive that car back into the garage, you could be headed to jail.

This is yet one more intrusion into the space the constitution carves out for individuals to stand free of government meddling, and another example of the law being twisted to control rather than to protect.

In the name of law and order, as is so often the case, the pretenders to the rule of law have again parsed words to strip citizens of their legal protections.

Nolan Finley’s book, “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.