Drunken Driver of a Wheelchair Was a Pedestrian, Appeals Court Rules

(CN) — A man convicted of drunkenly driving his motorized wheelchair should be considered a pedestrian rather than a driver, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, reversing and acquitting him.

James Richard Greene was charged with DUI in Lincoln County, for a 2012 incident in which he hit the side of a moving truck while he crossed the street in a crosswalk. Lincoln is a coastal county whose seat is Newport.

Greene was injured in the collision, and pleaded not guilty to DUI.

At his two-day jury trial, Greene’s attorney moved for acquittal, calling Greene a pedestrian and not a driver.

Judge Paulette Sanders denied the motion. Greene appealed and on Thursday the three-judge panel reversed, concluding that “the trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal.”

“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,” Presiding Judge Rex Armstrong wrote for the unanimous panel.

“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.”

Nonetheless, the appeals court found the state’s interpretation of the DUI statute “plausible,” because of the broad way “vehicle” can be interpreted. But it concluded that the Legislature did not intend to treat a person as both a pedestrian and a driver, and Greene was not subject to the vehicle code.

Greene, now 60, pleaded guilty to a DUI charge a decade ago in Lincoln County, according to electronic court records.

In a number of states, including Oregon, a person can be charged with DUI for riding a bicycle, boat, or other vehicle while drunk or high.

Last year, a Georgia man was cited for DUI after he backed his Rascal scooter into a Kroger store and knocked over plants. He told police that he had taken Valium, trazadone and drank a pint of alcohol, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And in 2009, police arrested an Amish man in Pennsylvania for DUI after finding him asleep in a moving horse buggy.

Judge Armstrong was joined on the panel by Judges James Egan and Roger DeHoog.

Greene was represented on appeal by Deputy Public Defender Sarah Laidlaw and Chief Defender Peter Gartlan.

%d bloggers like this: