Last week, an anonymous caller notified the Bergenfield, New Jersey police that a possible drunk driver was attempting to drive a Ford Mustang out of the parking lot of a Wallgreen’s parking lot. When officers arrived, they found 24-year-old Travis Jacob in the vehicle as described by the caller. After failing field sobriety tests, Jacob was arrested for driving under the influence.
Since Jacob never made it to a public street, his situation begs the question: can a person be arrested for DUI on private property such as Wallgreen’s parking lot?
The California Court of Appeals clarified the issue in People v. Malvitz. Ronald Dean Arnold 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 Court relied on prior versions of the California Vehicle Code section dealing with DUIs in concluding that people can be arrested for a California DUI on private property. Prior versions made it illegal to drive drunk “upon a highway or upon other than a highway areas in which are open to the general public.” The law was amended in 1982 and the language referring to location was deleted. The court reasoned that “the statute that prohibited driving under the influence of alcohol and/or any drug has emerged unencumbered with any language restricting its reach.”
The Court concluded that the legislative intent was that the law prohibit drunk driving anywhere in California including private property because drunk drivers not only pose a threat to public highways, but private property as well.
Furthermore, California Vehicle Code section 23215 allows law enforcement to patrol or enforce the provisions of section 23152, the section that provides California’s DUI laws, for offenses which occur other than upon a highway.
Had Travis Jacob been arrested in the parking lot of a California Wallgreen’s, absent other circumstances, the California DUI arrest and any subsequent DUI charge would be proper.