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Can I Be Charged with a DWI on Private Property in North Carolina?

On behalf of Randall & Stump, PLLC in Charlotte DWI Attorney, Charlotte DWI Lawyer, DWI on Tuesday, February 26, 2019

DWI on private property

You are likely aware that you should not drive on public streets or roads if you are impaired. Unfortunately, you might find yourself in an unexpected situation and wind up getting charged with driving while impaired (DWI) – even when you didn’t do anything wrong. As you’ll see below, you can get charged with a DWI on private property under several circumstances.

At Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys, we believe that your future is worth protecting. If you’ve been charged with DWI, we will aggressively protect your rights as we fight for you to obtain a fair result. To schedule a free and confidential case consultation with a skilled Charlotte DWI defense attorney, call us today at (980) 237-4579, or reach out through our online contact form.

Where Can You be Charged with DWI in NC?

North Carolina General Statutes (NCGS) § 20-138.1(a) criminalizes impaired driving on any “highway, any street, or any public vehicular area.” Under NCGS § 20-4.01(13), the terms “highway” and “street” are considered synonymous. The law defines them as “the entire width between property or right-of-way lines of every way or place of whatever nature, when any part thereof is open to the use of the public as a matter of right for the purposes of vehicular traffic.”

While there may be no question that you can be charged with DWI on a public highway or street, we want to point out that the legal definition does not require that the street or highway be publicly-owned. Under the statute, it only needs to be open to the public for vehicular traffic to meet the definition. As a result, you could be charged with a DWI on private property – if the street is open to the public.

What is a Public Vehicular Area?

A challenging aspect of NC law is when/where you can be charged with DWI while in a public vehicular area. NCGS § 20-4.01(32) defines this type of location as one that is “used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time.” The definition is extremely broad. It focuses on use, rather than ownership. The statute goes on to provide some examples of what constitutes a public vehicular area:

  • Streets, driveways, alleys, and parking lots located on state or federal public property
  • Parking lots and driveways located on retail property – whether the store is open or closed
  • Beach areas open to vehicles
  • Private roads and driveways located within a residential community

The statute carefully states that a public vehicular area is not limited to these examples. As such, you could be charged with DWI on private property.

What’s Not a Public Vehicular Area?

It would seem that anywhere you can drive a car would be considered a public vehicular area. However, there have been a number of cases in North Carolina that have challenged DWI charges on this basis, and have attempted to limit this overly-expansive definition.

In a 2014 case, State v. Ricks, counsel for the defendant challenged the public vehicular area element of the DWI charge. Ricks was sitting on a moped with the engine running on a dirt trail on a vacant lot when he was charged. On appeal, the court determined that the area had to be “generally open” to the public for vehicular use.

The court ruled that a public vehicular area is not a location that could be used by the public at any time. While the limitation imposed by the court is encouraging, you can also see that it’s somewhat vague – what does “generally open” really mean, and how might it apply to your case?

Contact Our Charlotte DWI Lawyers for Help

DWI charges are not always as straightforward as you might think. Small, seemingly insignificant facts can make a big difference in your case. However, it’s important to note that the prosecution wants to make sure you are convicted. You need an experienced Charlotte DWI defense attorney to protect your rights.

If you’ve been charged with DWI on private property in North Carolina and would like to speak with an attorney, reach out to Randall & Stump, Criminal Defense Attorneys right away. Contact us today at (980) 237-4579 to schedule a free case consultation.