One of the classic chestnuts of law school is how to interpret a sign that says “No vehicles in the park.”(See my previous posts). Once in a while, this question comes before the courts (New York). Yesterday, the Oregon Court of Appeals rejected the government’s supposition that a motorized vehicle is a “vehicle,” and reversed a DUI conviction.
Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for driv- ing under the influence of intoxicants (DUII), ORS 813.010, assigning error to the trial court’s denial of his motion for a judgment of acquittal.1 Defendant was convicted of DUII for operating his motorized wheelchair in a crosswalk on a city street while intoxicated. He argues that a person crossing a street in a crosswalk in a motorized wheelchair is a pedestrian and not the operator of a vehicle for purposes of the DUII stat- utes. The state responds that the meaning of “vehicle” under ORS 813.010 is broad and applies to a motorized wheelchair, including when the wheelchair is being used to cross a street in a crosswalk and, hence, that defendant was subject to the DUII statutes when he drove his wheelchair on the street. Because we conclude that a person operating a motorized wheelchair in a crosswalk is a pedestrian and not the driver of a vehicle for purposes of the DUII statutes, we reverse.
Here were the arguments adduced at trial:
After the close of the state’s case in a jury trial, defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing, among other things, that, because he was using his wheelchair in a crosswalk, he was a pedestrian under ORS 801.385 and not subject to the DUII statutes that apply to drivers of motor vehicles.3 According to defendant, had the legislature intended motorized wheelchairs operating in crosswalks to be treated as vehicles, it would have said that explicitly, as it did in enacting ORS 814.500, which treats motorized wheel- chairs as bicycles when they are operated on bicycle lanes or paths.4 The state responded that motorized wheelchairs are vehicles under ORS 801.590,5 and, hence, that defendant was the driver of a vehicle under the DUII statutes when he drove his wheelchair in the crosswalk. The trial court concluded that defendant was subject to the DUII statutes when he was crossing the street in his motorized wheelchair and, accordingly, denied his motion for a judgment of acquittal.
Here is the crux of the court’s analysis:
However, we can discern no legislative intention to treat operators of motor- ized wheelchairs as pedestrians for most purposes in the vehicle code—for example, protecting them from operators of motor vehicles while crossing a street in a crosswalk, ORS 811.028—while also treating them as operators of motor vehicles for purposes of the DUII statutes. ORS 801.385 defines “pedestrian” for purposes of the vehicle code as “any person *** confined in a wheelchair.” (Emphasis added.) Had the legislature intended to treat users of motorized and human-powered wheelchairs differently for purposes of the DUII statutes—the former as vehicle drivers and the latter as pedestrians—it would have made that distinction in treatment explicit. Cf. ORS 814.500 (operators of motorized wheelchairs subject to rights and duties of bicycle rid- ers when motorized wheelchairs are used on bicycle lanes or paths).
The court goes on to analyze the legislative history, which supports their conclusion. (Shocker, right?).
Here is the conclusion:
In the end, we are persuaded that the dichotomy that pervades the vehicle code between pedestrians and operators of vehicles decisively evinces a legislative intention not to subject people in motorized wheelchairs to the DUII statutes when they are traveling as pedestrians in crosswalks. We conclude that a person using a motorized wheelchair under circumstances in which the person is a pedestrian for purposes of the vehicle code is not subject to the DUII statutes.
Here, the evidence viewed in the light most favor- able to the state establishes that defendant left a sidewalk in his motorized wheelchair and travelled in a crosswalk. Accordingly, defendant was a pedestrian and not a driver of a vehicle for purposes of the DUII statutes. Hence, the trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal.
But what if the defendant rode in the motorized wheelchair in a park?
H/T Howard Bashman