The issue of whether a lawful owi arrest can take place upon a person’s private property is of considerable confusion to citizens throughout the United States. What makes the subject even more difficult to understand is that the answer may differ depending upon what state a citizen resides within.
As a general rule of thumb, no matter the state, one cannot expect to be immune from prosecution for an owi offense if a driver is determined to have been operating a motor vehicle on a public roadway prior to an arrest for owi on private property.
For example, it is wholly unreasonable to expect that a race to one’s private driveway protects one from prosecution the moment they enter their private property line. This is so because so long as probable cause exists to determine that an owi occurred on a public roadway or a location expected to be used by the general public prior to the driving activity, the automobile’s ultimate resting place is of little consequence.
However, the more controversial question is what happens when a motor vehicle never leaves one’s private property? For example, what happens if I am operating my own motorcycle in a state of intoxication on my own farm property, never once setting my wheels upon any public roadway whatsoever?
The answer to that question differs according to the state one resides in. In many state jurisdictions the term “public roadway” insulates the operation of a motor vehicle while intoxicated completely on “private” property from prosecution.
However, in states such as Indiana, it is specifically not a defense to an owi prosecution that a vehicle was never operational on a public roadway. As a result, no matter where a motor vehicle is operated within states such as Indiana, an individual can still be legally prosecuted for OWI.
With that being said, there will usually be significant probable cause issues that a capable owi attorney can utilize should a prosecution rely on driving activity completely done on private property.
Visual real time observations from a law enforcement official capable of determining valid owi probable cause for the investigation and/or questioning of a citizen upon their own premises I believe to be extremely limited.
More realistically, prosecutions of individuals for owi exclusively on private property are most likely to occur should outside entities be summoned to assist those in need of outside intervention.
For example, if 911 and/or an ambulance is called to my private property to assist me in the event I am injured while operating a snowmobile while intoxicated, I cannot rely on my private property rights to provide me with a legal defense to owi in Indiana.
As the validity of laws is always dependent upon appellate scrutiny, I believe that a case may arise in Indiana that could challenge the present state of law in this area. Nonetheless, at the present time, irrespective of where a motor vehicle is operated within the State of Indiana, please be advised that our owi statutes have specifically rejected the suggestion that an owi prosecution can be precluded based upon driving activity exclusively performed on private premises or property.