Can you get a DUI on private property?


Most people agree that driving while under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is a dangerous activity. However, decisions are made and people inevitably end up getting stopped by law enforcement and arrested for drunk driving. Most states have strict and severe laws concerning DUI offenders in order to discourage further behavior. But most people think that these laws apply to driving on public roads. What if you are driving somewhere else?


Private Property


It is important to keep in mind that all states have laws against DUI on public roads or property; however they differ when the act occurs on private property. To make things worse, the term private property can be interpreted in different ways using various angles.


For example, suppose a person has had one too many drinks and drives to a small grocery store on their way home. This grocer is a locally owned company and the building, along with the parking lot are titled in the name of the owner of the store. By definition, this parking lot is private property. However, since the parking lot is open to the general masses and the public is basically allowed to enter and exit at will, authorities have the legal right to investigate and arrest someone sitting in their car at this supermarket if there is probable cause.


Based on this example it is easy to see that there are so many more possibilities in which people can be arrested for DUI while on private property. Some other examples include:


  • Stadiums and parking areas for athletic teams
  • Golf course roads
  • Dirt trails located on privately owned land


Control of the Property


Many states have ruled that officers are not allowed to enter private roads or land if the owner currently has immediate control of the property. For instance, an off-road enthusiast purchases 10 acres of land so that he can ride his ATV without bothering other people’s property. He invites a few friends to come enjoy a day of riding with him. The property is surrounded by a high fence and the entrance is a locked gate to which the owner has the only key. As long as the owner is there and supervising the activities, anyone that may be acting under the influence of alcohol cannot be approached by authorities because the owner is present and has control of the property. However, going back to the earlier example of the grocery store, it is unlikely that the owner is monitoring the customers as they arrive and leave the parking area. Furthermore, the owner may not even be present when the DUI offender comes to the market.


Determining Probable Cause


Just like any other DUI case the local police must have a probable cause to question and detain any individual. On private property, this may be a little more difficult to establish. Obviously if a person has just crashed into the front of a store, or a parked car, and witnesses saw the person driving erratically, these combined actions would be enough to give the police a viable reason for questioning a person.


In other instances, police may witness the person driving their car on public roads and wish to question them. However, the person pulls into a private drive or private lot and removes themselves from the car. If the person returns to their car in a short period of time and attempts to drive off, or even start the car, the police now have a reason to detain the person. The majority of state that police may stop someone that appears to be suffering from the influence of alcohol before they can drive anymore. If a person is sitting behind the wheel of a car with the keys in the ignition, it is reasonable to assume that the person can and will drive the car in the immediate future. When police or other witnesses have seen this person acting as if they were under the influence, police have the right to stop this person from driving.


All DUI cases have unique circumstances and nobody should attempt to fight their case without the aid of an experienced DUI attorney.


By Richard Jacobs

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