Thursday, April 30, 2009


     The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that Indiana's laws against drunk driving apply even when a motorist is driving on his or her own private property.  You do not have to be driving on a public roadway in order to be convicted of operating while intoxicated. 

     In June of 2006, the defendant was operating an all-terrain vehicle on his own property in a rural area of Marshall County.  He was driving it well away from the public roadway, in a wooded area about three hundred yards from his cabin.  He had an accident, sustaining fractures and head trauma, and was taken to the hospital.  Police suspected that he had been drinking and, after having blood drawn, charged him with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated.  The defendant moved the trial court to suppress evidence on the grounds that he could not be charged with OWI for operating an all-terrain vehicle on his own private property.  The Marshall Superior Court granted the motion to suppress, and the State appealed.    

     On appeal, the defendant's attorney argued that the OWI statute's use of the terms "operator" and "vehicle" are both defined by reference to use upon a public highway.  Defense counsel further argued that in driving his ATV in a wooded area of his own property, the defendant was not in any way endangering the public, and that the OWI laws should not be extended to encompass a motorist's use of a vehicle on the driver's own private property.  

     The Indiana Supreme Court rejected the defendant's arguments.  Writing for the unanimous Court, Justice Brent Dickson noted that the State has a strong interest in protecting the health and safety of its citizens, referring not only to third persons but also the danger that a defendant presents to himself.  The Court concluded:  "Regardless of where the defendant's driving occurred, whether on public or private property, and even if on the defendant's own property, the State is authorized to charge him with intoxicated driving offenses."  The Court issued its opinion for publication on April 8, 2009, and it is now the law of the land. 

     So the next time you're having a cookout at your house and need to move some cars around in your driveway, you'd better be careful.  And if you've been sloshing down a few cold ones, let somebody who hasn't been drinking do it. 




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