Monday, January 02, 2006

Riding While Under the Influence: Is a Horse a Vehicle?

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently held that riding (a horse) while under the influence of alcohol does not constitute driving (a vehicle) while under the influence of alcohol. Commonwealth v. Noel et al., 579 Pa. 546, 857 A.2d 1283 (Sept. 22, 2004).

Lon Fuller, where are you? And what does fuzzy or rough set theory have to say about this case?

The applicable Pennsylvania DUI statute prohibited not the operation of a motor vehicle, but the operation of a vehicle simpliciter.

Another section of Pennssylvania's Motor Vehicle Code -- Section 3103(a) -- provided:

Every person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this part, except those provisions of this part which by their very nature can have no application or where specifically provided otherwise.
The Supreme Court held that Section 3103(a) was unconstitutionally vague.

This kind of case is bound to provoke a judge to write a witty dissent. And Justice Eeakin did not disappoint. He wrote (in part):

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.

Go right to the source and ask the horse
He'll give you the answer that you'll endorse.
He's always on a steady course.Talk to Mr. Ed.

Ray Evans and Jay Livingston, Mr. Ed, (CBS, 1961-1966).

Mr. Ed would know which sections of Part III do not "by their very nature" apply to his rider, and I attribute the equivalent horse sense to the ordinary reasonable person. Because I cannot agree § 3103(a) of the Vehicle Code is unconstitutionally vague, I offer my respectful dissent.


Due process simply requires the statute in question to contain reasonable standards to guide prospective conduct. Id. (citations omitted). The majority rides far afield, wondering whether an equestrian could be cited for driving the horse over a fire hose ( § 3708), or on a sidewalk ( § 3703), or whether § 3746 requires a person falling off a horse to notify police. The answer to the first two is "of course." *** As for the third hypothetical, the situation remains one of common sense; any ambiguity in this section involves the word "accident," not its application to equestrians. ***

Besides, appellant is charged with DUI, not a fire hose or sidewalk violation. *** It is not within the purview of this Court to adjudicate the rights of hypothetical individuals engaged in hypothetical conduct. Id. We could fashion imaginary fact situations until the livestock returns to the barn, but that is not proper constitutional analysis.

Trotting through Part III, it is not difficult to discern which statutes "by their very nature" cannot apply to equestrians. ***

These are statutes "by their very nature" not applicable to animal drivers; interestingly, they are not by nature applicable to the driver of a car, either. It is the "rules of the road" that apply to the driver of the mustang and Mustang alike. Here, an ordinary person of common intelligence would know that riding a horse while intoxicated would be a violation of § 3731, just as the same person would recognize that the rider of a horse must stop at a stop sign, ride on the right side of the road, and signal before turning. ***

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
but the Vehicle Code does not divorce
its application from, perforce,
a steed, as my colleagues said.

"It's not vague" I'll say until I'm hoarse,
and whether a car, a truck or horse
this law applies with equal force,
and I'd reverse instead.

Because I cannot agree this statute is vague or ambiguous, I respectfully dissent.