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:
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.
G.S. 20-138.1 provides in pertinent part: "A person commits the offense of impaired driving if he drives any vehicle upon any highway, any street, or any public vehicular area within this state ... [w]hile under the influence of any impairing substance; or ... [a]fter having consumed sufficient alcohol that he has, at any relevant time after the driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.10 or more." [Emphasis added.]
Defendant argues that a horse cannot be a “vehicle” and that even if it is, defendant was not “driving” it within the meaning of G.S. 20-138.1. We disagree.
“Vehicle” is defined in G.S. 20-4.01(49) as “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting devices moved by human power.” “Driver” is defined in G.S. 20-4.01(7) as the “operator of a vehicle” and “operator” is defined in G.S. 20-4.01(25) as a “person who is in actual control of a vehicle which is in motion or which has the engine running.”
... Defendant's main argument is that a horse is not a “device” and therefore cannot be a “vehicle.” While we have found no North Carolina decisions defining a saddle horse as a vehicle for the purpose of a prosecution under the driving while impaired statute, we find decisions from other jurisdictions persuasive on this point. In Conrad v. Dillinger, 176 Kan. 296, 270 P.2d 216 (1954), the Kansas Supreme Court held that a saddle horse is a “vehicle” within their statutory definition which is identical to G.S. 20-4.01(49). The Kansas court noted that its legislature expressly made the definition of the word “vehicle” so broad that it included not only automobiles and animal-drawn vehicles, but every device upon or by which any person may be transported, and that this definition is sufficiently broad to cover ridden animals. 270 P.2d at 218. In addition to defining a horse as a vehicle for the purposes of the traffic laws of the State of Kansas, the court noted that by adoption of G.S. 1949, 8-506, the legislature made all the provisions of Kansas traffic laws applicable to persons riding animals upon a roadway irrespective of whether such animals come under the definition of a vehicle. 270 P.2d at 218. See also, Broussard v. Annaloro, 268 So.2d 293 (La.App.1972); Watson v. Stallings, 270 N.C. 187, 154 S.E.2d 308 (1967).
On the other hand, in Utah v. Blowers, 717 P.2d 1321 (Utah 1986), the court focused on the word device to reach a contrary answer:
Section 41-6-44, under which Schofield was convicted, prohibits operation of a “vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol. The motor vehicle code defines a “vehicle” as “every device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.” This definition cannot be legitimately read to include horses.
The operative word in the statute is “device.” No dictionary we have examined defines “device” to encompass an animal, and section 41-6-1 uses the word “device” in its usual sense. Both due process and common usage restrain us from torturing the definition of a “vehicle” to include a horse. ...
The State attempts to avoid this result by relying on a few cases from other jurisdictions where horses have been found to be included within the definition of the word “vehicles” for the purposes of applying specific statutes. They include People v. Szymanski, N.Y.City Crim.Ct., 311 N.Y.S.2d 120, 63 Misc.2d 40 (1970), Conrad v. Dillinger, 176 Kan. 296, 270 P.2d 216 (1954), and State v. Stewart, 57 Ariz. 82, 111 P.2d 70 (1941). Stewart and Szymanski involved a wagon and team and a stage coach, respectively; therefore, they are readily distinguishable because horse-drawn carts fall within the accepted definition of “vehicles,” while horses alone do not. We simply reject Conrad as a strained attempt to reach a desired result.
The latter strikes me as preferable, at least in the absence of legislative history to the contrary. The plain text of the statute requires a "device," which the dictionary defines in ways that all seem to contemplate an inanimate object. See, e.g., Smith v. City of Chester, 842 F.Supp. 147 (E.D.Pa. 1994) (holding that "a school crossing guard does not constitute a traffic control device" because the "common definition of a device is 'a mechanical contrivance.' .... Thus, the definitions and provisions seem to contemplate some type of inanimate mechanical structure that is used.").
Being a plain text of the statute kind of guy, I'm content with that result. I'm not sure what Bill Eskridge's dynamic statutory interpretation model would say about all this, however.
Update: The charges against the Texas guys were dropped. Interestingly, the Texas DA seems to have embraced the same statutory interpretation as I did:
"The law doesn't support DWI on an animal," said County Attorney David Escamilla, explaining why the charge didn't hold up. "It has to be a motor vehicle or device. And our research shows a mule is not a motorized vehicle. To be absolutely sure, I watched a few episodes of ‘The Lone Ranger,' and not once did I hear the masked man refer to Silver as a device."