July 2, 2015 By Matthew Wallin
private property DUI
Under California law, you can still be arrested for DUI on private property.

Driving a vehicle on a California public street or highway under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both can trigger your arrest and prosecution for DUI under Vehicle Code Section 23152. Most people know this. However, you may be surprised to know that you can still be cited for DUI even if you are not on a public road.

Section 23215 of the California Vehicle Code states that law enforcement may, but is not required to, provide patrol or enforce the provisions of Section 23152 for “offenses that occur other than on a highway.”

Let’s take a brief look at the legal history behind California’s law prohibiting driving under the influence and its application to violations occurring on private property…

California Vehicle Code Changes in 1982 (CVC 23152)

Prior to 1982, CVC 23152 prohibiting driving under the influence applied while driving on California highways or other areas “open to the general public.” The law was amended in 1982 and the language referring to location was omitted. Today, CVC 23152 simply prohibits a person to drive a vehicle while under the influence, without any reference to location.

Furthermore, CVC 23100 states that provisions of the Vehicle Code pertaining to public driving offenses apply to vehicles upon the highways and elsewhere throughout the state unless expressly provided otherwise.

People v. Malvitz 11 Cal.App.4th Supp. 9 (1992)

DUI on private property in California
You can be cited for DUI on private property in California.

In 1992, the California Court of Appeals clarified the issue of DUI committed on private property. The court upheld the conviction of the defendant, Ronald Dean Arnold Malvitz, for driving under the influence while on the grounds of a privately owned locked storage facility. The defendant had argued that California Vehicle Code laws prohibiting driving under the influence applied to “highways” and that he should not have been arrested and charged.

The court disagreed, ruling in its opinion that the prior version of California Vehicle Code section 23152 made it illegal to drive drunk “upon a highway or upon other than a highway areas in which are open to the general public.” The court reasoned that “the statute that prohibited driving under the influence of alcohol and/or any drug has emerged unencumbered with any language restricting its reach.”

The court concluded in its decision to affirm Malvitz’s DUI conviction that “the objective intent of the Legislature as derived from the language of the pertinent Vehicle Code provisions is that a person who is driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is always a threat and the purpose of section 23152 is to prohibit those ‘extremely dangerous’ persons from driving anywhere in California.”

What is Driving Under the Influence? (CVC 23152)

California’s DUI laws say that it is unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle while:

  • Under the influence of an alcoholic beverage (CVC 23152 (a));
  • Operating a passenger vehicle with a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or greater (CVC 23152 (b));
  • Addicted to the use of any drug (CVC 23152 (c));
  • Operating a commercial vehicle with a BAC of .04% or more (CVC 23152 (d));
  • Under the influence of any drug (CVC 23152 (e)); and
  • Under the influence of a combination of alcohol and drugs (23152 (f)).

How Does California DUI Law Apply on Private Property?

The practical effect of Vehicle Code Section 23215, permitting the police to enforce California DUI law “other than on a highway” means that a person can get a DUI even if they are “off roading” on land not designated as a public road. As illustrated in the case example above, you can get a DUI on private property.

In fact, law enforcement can issue citations for DUI on lands other than highways that are open and accessible to the public except private lands under the immediate control of the owner or his or her agent where permission is required and has been granted to operate a motor vehicle.

This means that even if you are on private property, if the land is accessible to the public and is not within the immediate control of the owner, you can still be cited for DUI.

In other words, it is fair game for the police to arrest and charge you with driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol in the parking lot of your favorite restaurant or nightclub.

Contact Wallin & Klarich Today if You’ve Been Arrested for DUI on Private Property

attorneys - DUI on private property
Contact the attorneys at Wallin & Klarich if you have been charged with DUI on private property

If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI in violation of California Vehicle Code Section 23152, you should speak with our experienced DUI defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich today.

Our attorneys have over 30 years of experience handling DUI matters and have the skills and expertise necessary to provide you with the best possible defense. Our attorneys may be able to prove that the land was posted as not being open to the public. DUIs are serious offenses in California and should not be taken lightly.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, our attorneys at Wallin & Klarich will aggressively fight to help you get the best result possible in your case.

Call us today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will get through this together.

Your Answer


  1. @Keith: Do you have a fence around the entire property and driveway, and the car is within that fence line, and the fence is closed and locked? Then you’d likely be ok. Don’t be surprised if you did get a DUI for it, and then had to fight it in court, though (and still possibly lose, because ya know, California).

    However, based on reading this broad law, if you are out in your driveway, with no fence, and you put the keys in your car, turn it on (accessory) to listen to the radio while you change the oil, and you happen to be standing around drinking a beer (not even behind the wheel) when a cop rolls up, guess what? Instant DUI, because the car was operable, in a publicly accessible area.

    So what can you do?

    I can think of a couple of things: First, only drink around your vehicle in an area not accessible to the public – indoors (garage), in a gated and locked backyard, or in some other similar manner. Second, don’t have the keys anywhere on your person or nearby while the beer is out; put the beer away when you have the keys out (and don’t be visibly drunk). Third, before working on the car, disable it in some manner so that it becomes “inoperable” – pull the wires and plugs, drop the driveshaft, remove the battery, remove the ECM, take off the wheels and tires, etc. Do all of these things at once, and you should be ok.


    Again – you might still get the DUI and have to fight it in court, so make sure when you do all of these things, you have a witness, and photographic proof that you removed/modified the car explicitly for this purpose (take a video of what you’re doing, with audio of you saying what you are doing, time and date, your name, etc). Then be prepared to fight it in court.

    Or just move the hell outta California.

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