An OUI on Private Property or a Public Way
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and Carlos Felipe took the opportunity to wash his car, listen to a soccer game and relax with a beer. The game was exiting and so the car washing project took longer than normal and a substantial amount of alcohol was consumed. The radio was loud and not all of the neighbors were enjoying the sound so the police were called to the scene.
When the police arrived, Carlos Felipe was in the driver’s seat, laying back with the door open, a bucket of water at his feet and a bottle of Aguardiente in his hand. The officers grabbed him out of the car, then reached in, turned off the ignition and seized his keys. Carlos Felipe was in shock as they told him that he could remain silent because they were arresting him for operating under the influence.
In Massachusetts, the law criminalizes “operating” a vehicle while intoxicated instead of “driving,” which means that if a person so much as turns a car on in any way, while drunk, they can be arrested., But there is a significant limitation. The law is only enforceable when a car is on a “public way”, so a person’s private property is exempt.
There would be no question that Carlos Felipe was on private property, if he owned his home and had a driveway, but that was not his situation. He lived in an apartment building and shared his parking area with all the other tenants. Attorney Desmond FitzGerald knew that there had been several court decisions that held a private parking could be considered a public way, when many people were invited to use it, but he viewed this case as different. The other cases did not involve a parking area of a purely residential building, and attorney FitzGerald believed that the court should rule in their favor, so he prepared for trial.
A jury was empaneled to hear the case and the prosecution was allowed to present their evidence. After the government had finished their presentation and “rested,” attorney FitzGerald filed a Motion for Verdict of Not Guilty with the Judge, however, the Judge denied this request, stating that the jury should decide the case. Carlos Felipe did not testify because in a criminal case a defendant has the right to remain silent and the government has the obligation to prove their case. In this case attorney FitzGerald believed he could convince the Jury that the parking lot was the same as any part of Carlos Felipe’s home: private.
At the conclusion of a jury trial the prosecution and the defense attorney have the right to present a closing argument or a summary of how they want the jury to view the case. Attorney FitzGerald explained the importance of private property and the right of each of us to be free within that space that we call home. Attorney FitzGerald described the inequity that would occur if “private property” was limited to only those who owned single homes, exclusive driveways or tracts of land.
After only a short deliberation it was clear that the jury agreed because they found Carlos Felipe Not Guilty. We should always strive to be good neighbors, and be considerate of others with whom we share the spaces we call home, but it is good to know that the rights related to our homes are respected and protected for all, irrespective of economic conditions.