Though we often refer to drunk driving as DUI or OWI, the truth is that in Michigan, drunk driving is actually called Operating While Intoxicated (OWI). [It is illegal in Michigan to operate 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, within this state if the person is operating while intoxicated.”
As you can imagine, there is quite a bit of gray area as to what it actually means to “operate” a vehicle. For example, what if a person is passed out drunk in their driver’s seat with car engine running and in gear with their foot on the brake? (The Michigan Supreme Court decided this was “operating” a vehicle in People v. Wood). Or, what if a vehicle owned by the drunk defendant is sitting on the road and causes another car to get in an accident? (The Michigan Court of Appeals held in People v. Lechleitner that the “defendant” was operating the vehicle until he could return the vehicle to a position of safety).
Recently, the Michigan Court of Appeals revisited the legal issue of what constitutes operating a car for the purposes of the OWI law in Michigan. In the case, People of the City of Plymouth v. Brittney Lynn Longeway, a doorman at a martini bar told a police officer that he observed some females hit a concrete barrier with their vehicle when they arrived at the bar and also that they later appeared drunk when leaving the bar. The police officer observed that the female driver had the reverse lights of the vehicle on but then put the car back in park. The car’s wheels never moved. The driver was charged with Operating While Intoxicated and she argued that, based on past case law and statutory language in Michigan, she was not “operating” the vehicle. Her argument lost at the District Court level but won at the higher Circuit Court level. The prosecutors appealed, however, and the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the defendant was “operating the vehicle.” In deciding this, the appellate court looked to the drunk driving statute that says operating means being in actual physical control of the vehicle. Starting the car, applying the brakes, shifting gears into reverse, and then putting it back into park are all signs of the driver being in actual physical control, according to this ruling.
Many people ask us why they need a drunk driving lawyer if they blew a .08 or more blood alcohol content on their Preliminary Breath Test or DataMaster Test. It’s possible that there may be legal challenge issues in your case, such as whether you were actually or legally operating the vehicle. An experienced OWI attorney can fully examine all the facts of your case and prepare a defense strategy. Contact a drunk driving attorney today.