James K. Minick

James K. Minick

In order for an individual to be charged with Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) in North Carolina, the State must prove that an individual was driving impaired on a public highway. Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-138.1, a public highway is any highway, street, or public vehicular area in North Carolina. Under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-4.01, a highway and a street are defined as the entire width between property or right-of-way lines, when any part thereof is open to the use of the public as a matter of right for the purposes of vehicular traffic.

What is a Public Vehicular Area?

From this definition, it is easy to see that the scope of what is a public highway is very broad, especially based of the third part of the definition – a public vehicular area. Since a highway and a street are easily defined, most issues regarding the designation of a public highway in DWI charges arise out of the definition of a public vehicular area. A public vehicular area is anywhere a vehicle can be driven by a member of the public. This includes parking garages, parking lots, and even driveways. Although these are considered private property since they are owned by individuals and not by the state, the police can still charge individuals with DWI on these properties since members of the public have access to their use.

Cases Defining Public Vehicular Area

There are several cases that have been decided in North Carolina that have defined what a public vehicular area is. In State v. Snyder, 468 SE 2d 221 (1996), the North Carolina Supreme Court found that a parking lot of a private night club was still considered a public vehicular area, even though the nightclub was a private establishment that didn’t allow the entire public in. Following this case, the legislature broadened the definition of a public vehicular area under N.C. Gen. Stat. 20-401(32). In State v. Mark, 154 N.C. App. 341 (2002), the court concluded that a private street was considered a public vehicular area because there was an inference that the street was open to the public because it had a name, was the requisite width of a state road, and was located near other roads.

From these cases, it is easy to see that there is strong support under the law for police officers to be allowed to charge an individual with DWI almost anywhere a vehicle can be driven, regardless of whether the area is owned by the state or by a private owner. If you have been charged with a DWI, don’t hesitate to Contact Us at Minick Law for a free consultation about your case.

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