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Is a DUI on Private Property the Same as a DUI on Public Property?

Intoxicated on Private Property
In Ohio, you can be arrested for a DUI offense of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs even while on private property. While most DUI arrests do occur on public roads, Ohio law allows police officers to also arrest you for driving under the influence even while you are on private property. Essentially, the accusation of intoxicated driving concerns your suspected use of the intoxicating substance rather than the location you are at when you attract the attention of a law enforcement officer. Thus, you can be charged with a DUI offense even while in a private parking lot or driveway, or on a golf course, fairgrounds, unpaved access roads, or at a stadium.

Many people believe that they will not be arrested for a DUI offense while on private property, so they will often stay on private property or pull into a driveway, parking lot, or some other private area in an effort to avoid arrest. However, Ohio law and Ohio Revised Code section 4511.19 make it illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs anywhere “within the state” so that you will not be safe from arrest anywhere if an officer sees you and has any reason to suspect you of driving while under the influence or of being in “physical control” of your vehicle while under the influence. The Ohio statute makes no distinction between public and private property for purposes of DUI arrests and merely states: “No person shall operate any vehicle, streetcar, or trackless trolley within this state,” if “the person is under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse, or a combination of them.” The police officer can arrest you no matter where you are if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that you may be operating your vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

While police officers are allowed to arrest you for a DUI offense while on private property, the officer does have to have a sufficient reason to be on the private property to arrest you as police officers are not allowed to simply enter private property for the sole purpose of checking for impaired drivers. However, almost any justification will generally be sufficient for the officer to enter the property as police officers have a duty to check out any activity which he or she considers suspicious or dangerous. In many cases, the parking lots and driveways or other private property areas are visible from the road and the officer could witness your intoxicated driving before entering onto the private property to arrest you. If you are at a stadium or other sporting event, concert, or festival, police will generally be present to provide crowd control and security. These police officers are already present on the private property and can arrest you if they suspect you of driving while under the influence. Police may also be able to spot you as a DUI suspect while responding to a noise or disorderly conduct report and arrest you even though spotting you was purely incidental in those situations.

Some possible actions that may alert a police officer to the possibility that you may be intoxicated and under the influence of alcohol or drugs include: (a) staggering or stumbling while you are walking to your car, (b) hitting a pedestrian with your car, (c) traveling in the wrong lane, (d) driving your car onto a curb or sidewalk, (e) hitting a building, parked car, or other stationary object, (f) causing a low-speed accident while on the private property. Generally, and especially if the police officer did not witness the intoxicated driving personally, the officer will ascertain whether you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs by administering a field sobriety test such as by making you stand on one leg, walk straight lines, or perform some other sobriety test. These field sobriety tests are often one of the areas for an experienced DUI defense attorney to attack their credibility to challenge your DUI arrest on procedural grounds, especially if the field sobriety tests were performed in a careless or coercive way or not even performed.

Another area of concern to keep in mind if you are on private property is the fact that many police officers in Ohio will arrest you for a “physical control” violation under Ohio Revised Code section 4511.194 if they are unable to prove you actually drove while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Under O.R.C. section 4511.194, the police officer may cite reasons to suspect you were intoxicated while you were sitting in the driver’s seat of your vehicle with the keys either in the ignition, in your pockets, in your hand, or anywhere within your reach. Many people are often charged with “physical control” violations after being found asleep in a vehicle while parked in a driveway, parking lot, or on the side of a road. The penalties for a “physical control” violation will be similar to those for a DUI/OVI offense, including a suspension of your driver’s license.

Ultimately, you should remember that are not protected from being arrested for a DUI offense for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs simply because you are in your vehicle on private property. If you are operating a vehicle while under the influence in Ohio, you can be arrested and charged with a DUI offense, regardless of where you may be at the time of your arrest.

However, the one slight exception to this rule is if you were on a bicycle. Under O.R.C. section 4511.52, you can only be charged with a DUI/OVI offense on a bicycle if you were operating the bicycle “upon a highway or upon any path set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.”

If you have been convicted of a DUI offense while on private property, you need to contact an experienced and qualified DUI defense attorney in Ohio as soon as possible so that your attorney is able to successfully defend you. A qualified defense attorney in Ohio with experience defending against DUI arrests made while on private property can help you understand the strategy for your defense, including by attacking the credibility of any field sobriety tests performed on you as well as the police officer’s justification for entering the private property and other possible defenses. One of the strategies that commonly helps Ohio DUI defense attorneys defend a case will be if your attorney is able to attack the officer’s justification for entering the property and whether the officer truly had reasonable suspicion for the stop and probable cause for arresting you for a DUI offense.