People v. Yamat: What Does It Mean to Operate a Vehicle?

The Court of Appeals in People v. Yamat discusses what it means to “operate”  a vehicle. Although the Yamat case dealt with a charge of felonious driving, the case is relevant for an operating while intoxicating charge.

What Happened in the Case

Defendant was a passenger in a car and his girlfriend was the driver. The couple had an argument. Defendant grabbed the steering wheel and turned the car. The vehicle then veered off the road, and hit a jogger, who suffered injuries.

The defendant was charged with felonious driving. At the preliminary exam, the district court refused to bind over the defendant because it believed the prosecution did not meet its burden as to operation of the vehicle. The circuit court affirmed, saying the defendant did not have complete control over the vehicle.

The Court of Appeals agreed, ruling the defendant merely interfered with the girlfriend’s driving, but did not operate the vehicle himself. The case then reached the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court took up the case to answer the question of what it means to operate a vehicle.

What is Actual Physical Control?

The Michigan vehicle code defines operate as “actual physical control of a vehicle regardless of whether or not the person is licensed under this act as an operator or chauffeur.” MCL 257.35a

The Court focused on the word “control.” The word “control” means power or authority to guide or manage, according to the definition.

The Court had no doubts that steering a car in a different direction equaled control.

Is Yamat Still Relevant?

There is no longer a felonious driving statute on the books. The case is still relevant, however, because it shows the Court’s thinking on the definition of operation. The definition can be applied in the context of operating while intoxicated and other drunk driving cases.

Operating Cases

The trend from Yamat and other cases in its wake is an expansive view of operation of a vehicle. The case makes clear that a person does not need to be the driver of a vehicle or in the driver’s seat of a vehicle to be in actual physical control of the vehicle.

Yamat ultimately led to the recent case of Plymouth v. Longeway, a Court of Appeals case. In Longeway, the Court found operation where the defendant turned the car on, put the car in reverse, then shifted the car back into park, but had never moved the car. The case illustrates how broadly the Courts will define operation.

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Sam Bernstein is a DUI Lawyer in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 2750 Carpenter Rd #2, Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

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Our Firm focuses on DUI Law. We can help with your DUI case in many ways. Whether your are interested in challenging your case or resolving to help your driver’s license, we can help. At our firm, we also help people with a variety of driver’s license matters, from the implied consent hearings to the circuit court driver’s license appeals. In addition, we regularly help people get their driver’s license back through secretary of state driver’s license restoration appeals.

The driving under the influence laws now are more complicated than ever. And the criminal cases are increasingly intertwined with the driver’s license sanctions and hearings. We can help you navigate this world and do everything in our power to preserve or get your license back. A driver’s license is often something we take for granted until we don’t have it anymore. We understand how serious it is for you to have the license.

DUI law of course all stems from the criminal case. At ArborYpsi Law, we are uninterested in simply going through the motions. If you hire us for your DUI case, we will examine everything relevant to your case to determine potential challenges. We are unafraid to follow through with challenging your case.

These cases are difficult to win: The legislature and higher level courts have continuously made the life of defendants more difficult through increasingly stricter laws and interpretations of the law. Just look at Yamat and Longeway. The Courts are uninterested in letting people charged with DUIs have a chance at escaping the court’s grasp.

Nevertheless, the Constitution has guaranteed you the right to a jury trial. At ArborYpsi Law we will always believe in the power of a good jury to render a just and fair verdict. We will argue your case to a jury no matter the uphill battle your case may seem.

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