It is not uncommon for a person to be arrested on suspicion of DUI after having been only observed and stopped by law enforcement in a private parking lot. And the question arises, “can you get convicted of a California DUI if the officer never observes you driving on a public road and you are stopped on private property?”
There is a misconception that the California Vehicle Code only sets forth the rules of the road for public roadways.
Division 11 of the California Vehicle Code sets forth the “rules of the road,” if you will, which includes California’s laws against driving with a 0.08 blood alcohol content or higher and driving while under the influence. California Vehicle Code section 21001 states, “The provisions of [Division 11] refer exclusively to the operation of vehicles upon the highways, unless a different place is specifically referred to.” The Code then goes on to state, “[t]he provisions of this chapter apply to vehicles upon the highways and elsewhere throughout the State unless expressly provided otherwise.”
The language of the Vehicle Code is admittedly vague. Ronald Dean Arnold Malvitz challenged the language of the Vehicle Code in the 1992 case of People v. Malvitz.
Malvitz was arrested for California DUI in a privately locked storage facility. Malvitz argued that since the DUI arrest occurred on private property and not on a public highway, California’s DUI law (section 23152 of the Vehicle Code) did not apply to him.
The California Court of Appeals though it necessary to clarify whether the language of the Vehicle Code was meant to include private property.
Prior to 1982 the vehicle code made it illegal to drive drunk “upon a highway or upon other than a highway areas in which are open to the general public.” However, in 1982, the legislature deleted the language referring to the locations upon which a person could be arrested and ultimately convicted of drunk driving.
The Court in People v. Malvitz relied on the earlier version of the California Vehicle Code to help clarify the issue. The Court concluded that the “statute that prohibited driving under the influence of alcohol and/or any drug has emerged unencumbered with any language restricting its reach.”
In other words, the Court concluded that it was the intent of the legislature that, in deleting the portion of the statute which referred to location, the law which prohibits drunk driving should extend to anywhere in California where drunk drivers pose a threat included public highways as well private property.
Furthermore, California Vehicle Code section 23215 states, “[law enforcement] may, but shall not be required to, provide patrol or enforce the provisions of [California’s DUI law] for offenses which occur other than upon a highway.”
Even though law enforcement not required to patrol or enforce California’s DUI laws on private property, I can tell you that they most certain will and do all the time.