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A very common question that California drivers often pose is whether they can be arrested for a DUI offense that occurs on a private road. California Appellate Courts have elected to interpret the DUI laws very broadly and people can be arrested for driving under the influence offenses on both public and private roads.
The California Court of Appeals addressed the issue of DUI offenses committed on private property in the 1992 People v. Malvitz case. In this case, the driver was observed driving while on the property of a private locked storage facility. In challenging the case, the defense argued that the defendant was not on a “highway” as defined by the law because he was entirely on private property.
The Court in Malvitz disagreed with the defendant’s arguments and opted to apply a broad interpretation of the DUI laws so that a person is prohibited from driving while intoxicated anywhere in California. This means that law enforcement officers can aggressively pursue DUI drivers in areas that are not considered public highways, such as private streets or off-roading tracks on private property. As long as the area is accessible to the public and not under the immediate control of the owner, a driver can be cited for DUI for operating a motor vehicle under the influence while on private property.
This would include people driving all-terrain vehicles on private beaches or private trails, those driving golf carts on private golf courses or a driver who is under the influence at a privately owned racetrack. The fact that the drivers are on private property would not protect them from DUI prosecution.
In some cases, there may be an argument that the law enforcement agency unlawfully entered private property and thus any resulting DUI arrest or evidence may be subject to suppression. This argument would not apply where the officer observes a person driving on private property, such as the example in Malvitz at a private storage facility. In this case, the officer was justified in entering the property to stop the driver.
However, if an officer enters private property without permission and subsequently witnesses a driver who he or she believes is under the influence, any resulting DUI case may be rendered invalid because of the officer’s unlawful entry.
If the driver is stopped and arrested for a DUI offense while on private property, he or she would be subject to the same criminal and administrative penalties as someone who was stopped for DUI on a public highway. The driver would have to face charges in court and could face a litany of criminal penalties if convicted, including a mandatory drug and alcohol class, potential jail time, extensive fines, community service and restitution to cover any damages caused. In addition, the driver would face an administrative suspension of his or her driver’s license that is triggered by the DUI arrest. On a first offense, the driver would lose his license for a minimum of four months. Refusing to submit to chemical testing would result in a yearlong suspension.