Don’t Ride Drunk: An Interesting Problem in Statutory Interpretation

by Rebecca on January 17, 2011

in Animal Stories,Funny Animal Pictures

Then from the Professor Bainbridge blog

Doug Mataconis flags a story about two guys in Texas who got busted for DUIs while one was riding a horse and the other a mule:

Only In Texas: Men Arrested For DWI On A Horse

Actually, this is not a “story that could only happen in the Lone Star State.” It’s a perennial legal problem. I posted on this back in 2007 and I’m bumping the post up:

From Alabama news, we find a very interesting problem of statutory interpretation:


A woman who went for a horseback ride through town at midnight and allegedly used the horse to ram a police car was charged with driving under the influence and drug offenses, police said Tuesday.

Not that I frequently go horseback riding after a bottle or three of wine, but it got me wondering.

California Vehicle Code section 23152 provides that:

It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle.

Why California? Because I live here, not in Alabama.

So what’s a vehicle? Vehicle Code section 670 provides:

A “vehicle” is a device by which any person or property may be propelled, moved, or drawn upon a highway, excepting a device moved exclusively by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.

Device is not a defined term in the Code. At a minimum, however, it is clear that the term “vehicle” is not limited to “motor vehicle,” since the latter term is separately defined in section 415(a) as “a vehicle that is self-propelled.” (BTW, since a horse is self-propelled, why isn’t it a motor vehicle?)

So is a horse a vehicle? In State v. Dellinger, 327 S.E.2d 609 (NC 1985), we learn that some states give an affirmative answer:

This appeal presents an issue of first impression: whether a horse is a vehicle for the purpose of charging a violation of [the drunk driving law]. We hold that it is.

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