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Michigan Court of Appeals Ruling: Operating While Parked

May 7 | 2012  by

A recent Court of Appeals case shows Michigan drivers that ‘operating’ a vehicle in the context of an OWI/DUI can mean more than one might think.

In City of Plymouth v. Longeway, Brittney Longeway had just left a bar for the evening and was sitting in her car, parked legally in the parking lot. After turning on the car Longeway shifted into reverse and back into park, doing so without ever moving the car. Having seen this, an officer arrested Longeway for operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol; OWI/DUI.

Longeway moved to dismiss the charges, stating she had not ‘operated’ the vehicle because the car never moved and although the circuit court agreed with Longeway on her first appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed.

By distinguishing the case from People v. Wood, where the driver was asleep at the wheel of a parked car while impaired, the appellate court stated that Longeway had ‘actual conscious control’ of the vehicle at all times. The court reasoned that since Longeway had consciously applied the brake, shifted the car into reverse and back into park, she had ‘operated’ the vehicle sufficiently under MCL 257.35a.

Although the court stated that it was strictly following MCL 257.35a, numerous defense attorneys questioned the case and feel that the law is dealing with a very slippery slope here. It seemed to some that Longeway had been arrested for her apparent ‘intent’ to operate the vehicle; a significant difference from actually operating it.

Despite these concerns, the court found Longeway displayed “active physical control” of the vehicle and supported her charge of OWI/DUI. If you have questions in this area of law, contact Mark Mandell at (248) 554-1440.