One of my favorite exercises in Legislation Class was interpreting a statute that reads “No Vehicles in the Park.” What is a vehicle? How to define it? If the sign was erected in the 1800s, would the sign prohibit automobiles or just horse-carriages? Ah, Law School.
A riding lawn mower may have four wheels, a powerful engine and can cost as much as a used car. If it’s stolen, however, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded Monday that it’s not a motor vehicle.
Public defender Michael McCarthy told the justices that while Harris should still be charged with theft, he shouldn’t be punished as if he had stolen a car. A riding mower is many things, a modern mechanical marvel among them, but McCarthy said it’s not a motor vehicle under state law.
Prosecutors countered that the state defines a “motor vehicle” as a “self-propelled” device, and there’s no doubt a riding mower meets that standard.
The state’s top court agreed, concluding in an 18-page decision that the sentence should be overturned because the purpose of a riding mower is to cut grass, not transport people.
“To be sure, a riding lawn mower is capable of transporting people or property and of driving on the street for short stretches,” Justice David Nahmias wrote in the opinion. “But that is not what the machine is designed for or how it is normally used.”
But, like any good law school class, there was some disagreement:
In a dissent, Justice Harold Melton argued that Georgia lawmakers specifically defined “motor vehicle” broadly enough to include riding mowers. It warned that the ruling “has interpreted the statute in a manner that creates conflict and leads to an absurd result.”
The full opinion from the Georgia Supreme Court is available here.