Can You Get a DUI on Private Property?

The DUI laws of some—but not all— states apply to public and private property alike.

Every state has DUI laws that prohibit drunk, high, or otherwise impaired driving. In most DUI cases, the focus for the prosecution is on proving that the driver was under the influence and was actually operating (or attempting to operate) a vehicle.

But a key factor in many states is also where the driver was operating the vehicle. The DUI laws of some states apply only on public highways, while other states prohibit impaired driving on public and private property.

This article covers the variety of ways state DUI laws handle the issue of where a driver can be arrested for driving under the influence.

DUI Laws That Apply Only to Public Highways and Properties

The DUI (and implied consent) laws of some states explicitly limit their application only to public highways. In these states, the term "public highways" generally includes interstates and actual highways, but also any public road such as residential and city streets.

However, these types of DUI laws don't apply to private properties. Consequently, officers in these states aren't authorized to arrest impaired persons for operating a vehicle while on private property.

As a general rule, private property includes areas that are maintained and paid for by individual persons or companies. Private properties that are outside the reach of these types of DUI laws might include driveways, parking lots, and off-road trails on private land.

DUIs on Private Property That's Open to the Public

In many states, DUI laws extend to public and private property that's "open to the public." Generally, property that's privately owned and maintained is considered open to the public if it's for the use of the general public.

Some of the most common examples of private properties that are open to the public would include roadways and parking lots for shopping centers, movie theaters, sports stadiums, hotels, and various types of business offices. While these properties are private, the owners allow the general public access for commercial and business purposes.

DUI Laws and Exclusive Private Property

In states that have DUI laws that apply only to public property and private property that's open to the public, a driver can't be convicted of driving under the influence on private property that's intended exclusively for private use.

Examples of exclusive private properties might include private driveways, private ranches, and gated communities.

However, the dividing line between exclusive private property and private property that's open to the public isn't always clear and the courts in different states sometimes reach different conclusions. So, if you have any doubts, it's best to consult with a knowledgeable DUI attorney in your area.

DUI Laws that Apply Within the Entire State

Some states have opted to avoid any confusion about where DUI laws apply by extending the reach of their laws to all areas within the state. In these states, a person could theoretically be arrested for driving under the influence anywhere within state lines.

However, one caveat to the "anywhere" rule is that an officer must have a valid reason to enter private land for a DUI investigation. Unless an officer clearly observes some violation of the law, he or she generally can't enter private property.

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