Police and prosecutors are constantly trying to stretch DUI laws to ensnare more citizens. One of the more creative ways is to simply re-define the language in those laws. For example, it is a criminal offense to drive a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Well, what does “vehicle” mean? A car or truck, right?
As the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland” said, “A word means exactly what I say it means”…..
Let’s look at a few examples of some of the more successful “interpretations”. The appellate courts of this great nation have sustained DUI convictions for driving a tractor, (N. Carolina: State v. Green, 110 S.E.2d 805), a moped (New Mexico: 24 P.2d 365), and even a snowmobile (Michigan: 475 N.W.2d 717). So where does it all stop?
Well, on May 6, 1999, the Associated Press reported the arrest of a gentleman in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, for DUI — on a lawnmower.
An Ohio appellate court, in its judicial wisdom, sustained a conviction for drunk driving on a bicycle (531 N.E.2d 775). A bicycle, the court said, was a “vehicle” — at least, for the purposes of the DUI statute.
Well, next thing you know they’re going to start arresting people on horseback….
San Francisco police arrested one Tyrone McDonald and charged him with “driving” (a horse) under the influence of alcohol. McDonald had become intoxicated and stolen a horse from a nearby racetrack, which he promptly rode into the path of an oncoming truck. He was arrested for grand theft, cruelty to animals and drunk driving.
Not to be outdone, police in Mercer County, Pennsylvania, arrested a man for riding a horse while intoxicated. The trial judge, cleverly realizing that the term “vehicle” in the drunk driving statute did not really mean “horse”, threw the charges out. The prosecution, apparently unable to see the judge’s logic, appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. Fortunately, sanity again prevailed and the lower court’s decision was affirmed. One justice on the Court, however, insisted that a horse was, in fact, a vehicle and wrote a dissenting opinion in which he (no joke) wrote the following poem:
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, but the Vehicle Code does not divorce its application from, perforce, a steed as my colleagues said. ‘It’s not vague’, I’ll say until I’m hoarse, and whether a car, a truck or hors, this law applies with equal force, and I’d reverse instead.”