The Michigan Supreme Court in People v. Roger held that a person can be prosecuted under the motor vehicle code drunk driving statute for operating a snowmobile while intoxicated on the road.
The Case Facts
The facts of the case aren’t complicated. Defendant Roger was riding a snowmobile down the shoulder of the highway. He had a blood alcohol content of .23.
Roger was prosecuted under the drunk driving statute of the Motor Vehicle Code, MCL 257.625. There is a separate statute for prosecutions of riding a snowmobile while intoxicated. Roger argued that he should be prosecuted under the snowmobile statute, not the Motor Vehicle Code.
At a bench trial, the court dismissed the charges against him, ruling there was is a specific statute for snowmobiles (snowmobile act), and Roger should be prosecuted under that statute.
It is against the law to drive under the influence of alcohol or drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 or above. This applies to motor vehicles, boats, and snowmobiles, though each transportation device has its own statute under which the crime of operating such a device could be prosecuted.
The law also defines a vehicle as “[v]ehicle’ means every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices exclusively moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks and excepting a mobile home.”
The Court believed a snowmobile is a vehicle under this definition. The law also says that snowmobiles are not supposed to be operated on the road.
The Court’s Decision
The question for the Court was whether a person could be prosecuted for a violation of the MVC OWI statute for operating a snowmobile while intoxicated. The Defendant argued he should have been prosecuted under the snowmobile act, which had lesser consequences than violations of the Vehicle Code.
The Court held that a person can be prosecuted under the Motor Vehicle Code OWI statute for operating a snowmobile while drunk on a road.
The Vehicle Code states that a person shall not operate any vehicle on a public highway while intoxicated. Also, snowmobiles are not supposed to be operated on a public highway.
The Court held that the Vehicle Code and snowmobile act are overlapping in that each can apply to snowmobiles operated on a highway. Therefore the Court believed the statutes were very similar in that they were related to the same purpose and conduct. A prosecutor, the Court went on, should have broad discretion over which type of law can be charged when there are two statutes that have the same essentials.
When Roger drove the snowmobile on the highway, these actions could have fallen under either the Vehicle Code or the snowmobile act.
Takeaways From the Case
Broadly speaking, this case affirms the principle that prosecutors may bring charges for conduct under various statutes so long as the statutes have a common purpose. Specifically, this case teaches that prosecutors may charge under the Vehicle Code drunk driving statute for any type of vehicle driven on the road where cars drive, even if that vehicle has a separate statute designed to deal with OWIs of that vessel.
Therefore, be careful driving your boat while drunk down the highway – you might think you’re getting away easy with a OWI-boat when you really could get hit with a regular ole OWI from the Motor Vehicle Code.
Get in Touch
Sam Bernstein is a Lawyer focusing on Criminal Defense and DUI law in Ann Arbor.
ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.
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This case is Captioned as People v. Roger, 438 Mich. 602, (1991) 475 N.W.2d 717.