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Scooter rider cleared of drunk driving

Since the ultimate aim of drunk driving laws is to prevent mayhem on the roadways, did it really make sense for Minnesota police to arrest a disabled man who had a blood alcohol content of .17 while riding around on a motor scooter that has a maximum speed of 5.75 mph?

Of course it didn’t. And that’s what the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided in recently overturning the driving while impaired (DWI) conviction of James Anthony Brown Jr.

Brown is physically disabled, he learned to bike using kids bikes for learning to balance and uses a battery-operated three-wheel Legend Pride Mobility Scooter to get around in his home town of Grand Rapids.

On July 29, 2009, Brown drove his scooter to a local car dealership. Evidently, Brown had been drinking and was being a pest, so someone at the dealership called police to the scene to investigate a case of public intoxication.

Grand Rapids police arrested Brown, who consented to a breath test. After blowing a .17, he was charged with third-degree DWI for driving his scooter with an alcohol concentration of more than .08.

Of course, Brown had only been driving along city sidewalks, but that didn’t matter to prosecutors who later managed to persuade a state judge to convict Brown.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals fortunately put an end to the madness earlier this month when it concluded that the state’s drunk driving law obviously did not apply to motor scooters that the disabled and elderly use to enhance their quality of life.

The court said that “Brown’s scooter is, for purposes of [state law], a wheelchair and does not meet the definition of ‘vehicle,’ because it is generally not a ‘device in, upon, or by which any person or property is or may be transported … upon a highway.’ …

“Because Brown’s scooter is not a ‘vehicle’ under the relevant statutory definitions, it is not a ‘motor vehicle.’ And Brown is not a ‘driver,’ because when he uses his scooter he is not driving or in physical control of a ‘vehicle.’” (Minnesota v. Brown)

— Pat Murphy

patrick.murphy@lawyersusaonline.com

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