PEOPLE OF MI V MACARIO G YAMAT JRAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN,
March 24, 2004
Kent Circuit Court
LC No. 04-002637-AR
MACARIO G. YAMAT, JR.,
Official Reported Version
Before: Murray, P.J., and Markey and O'Connell, JJ.
Plaintiff appeals by leave granted the trial court's order affirming the district court's
dismissal of a charge of felonious driving, MCL 257.626c, against defendant. We affirm. This
appeal is being decided without oral argument pursuant to MCR 7.214(E).
Defendant, a front-seat passenger in a vehicle, grabbed and turned the vehicle's steering
wheel without permission. The vehicle left the road and struck a jogger. The district court
dismissed the charge of felonious driving, finding that defendant was not operating the vehicle
within the meaning of MCL 257.626c. The circuit court affirmed.
We review an issue of statutory interpretation de novo on appeal. Livonia Hotel, LLC v
Livonia, 259 Mich App 116, 130; 673 NW2d 763 (2003). In determining the meaning of a
statute, we first look to the precise words the Legislature used. Pohutski v City of Allen Park,
465 Mich 675, 683; 641 NW2d 219 (2002). And, we must enforce the language used, id., and
utilize any definitions provided in the statute. If the Legislature does not define an important
word we can consult a dictionary for its common meanings. People v Cathey, 261 Mich App
506, 515-516; 681 NW2d 661 (2004).
Here, MCL 257.626c provides in pertinent part:
A person who operates a vehicle upon a highway or other place open to
the general public or generally accessible to motor vehicles, including an area
designated for the parking of vehicles, carelessly and heedlessly in willful and
wanton disregard of the rights or safety of others, or without due caution and
circumspection and at a speed or in a manner that endangers or is likely to
endanger any person or property resulting in a serious impairment of a body
function of a person, but does not cause death, is guilty of felonious driving . . . .
The Legislature defined the critical term "operate" as "being in actual physical control of
a vehicle . . . ." MCL 257.35a. The statute does not define "control," but a dictionary indicates
that it means "power or authority to guide or manage." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary
Applying these definitions, we conclude that defendant was not in actual physical control
of the vehicle. Rather, defendant was interfering with the actual physical control of the vehicle.
The undisputed evidence shows that the driver, who had control of the gas and brake pedals,
emergency brake, ignition, turn signals, and steering wheel, was appropriately driving the vehicle
until defendant grabbed the steering wheel, causing the vehicle to veer off the road. Although
defendant's act caused the vehicle to veer off the road, defendant did not have the actual physical
control of the vehicle, i.e., the power or authority to guide or manage the vehicle. Defendant
could not have stopped or started the vehicle, nor could he have caused it to increase or decrease
in speed. Defendant could not use any of the vehicle's other instruments; therefore he was not in
actual physical control of the vehicle.
No authority addresses whether a passenger who grabs and turns the steering wheel of a
moving vehicle to the surprise of the driver is operating the vehicle for purposes of MCL
257.626c. Cases addressing the issue of what constitutes the operation of a vehicle are all in the
context of the statute prohibiting the operation of a vehicle under the influence of intoxicating
liquor. Moreover, all these cases involved a single occupant of the vehicle and are
distinguishable on that basis. See, e.g., People v Wood, 450 Mich 399; 538 NW2d 351 (1995).
However, in an analogous case, Farm Bureau Gen Ins Co v Riddering, 172 Mich App 696; 432
NW2d 404 (1988), the Court held that a front-seat passenger who grabbed and turned the
steering wheel of a vehicle was not operating the vehicle for the purpose of applying an
exclusionary clause in an insurance policy. We believe that case offers a persuasive analysis.1
The Riddering Court observed that the operation of a vehicle involved more than simply
steering: it includes all functions necessary to make the vehicle operate. The Riddering Court
concluded that in the case before it, the passenger who grabbed and turned the steering wheel
without permission was interfering with the operation of the vehicle, not operating it. Id. at 703.
The prosecution's assertion—that in light of the absence of authority interpreting the meaning
of operating a vehicle for the purpose of applying MCL 257.626c, the district court and the
circuit court erred in consulting authority dealing with civil law—is unsubstantiated, as the
prosecution has provided no authority for its position. Leitch v Switchenko, 169 Mich App 761,
764; 426 NW2d 804 (1988).
On the basis of the above analysis, we conclude that defendant's grabbing and turning the
steering wheel without the driver's permission did not constitute operation of the vehicle for
purposes of the application of MCL 257.626c.
/s/ Christopher M. Murray
/s/ Jane E. Markey
/s/ Peter D. O'Connell