Drunk driving defense attorney Peter M. Liss previously discussed how just about anything self-propelled can be considered a vehicle under California DUI codes, but people are still surprised when they hear specific examples explaining just how broad the law is. For example, you can even get a DUI on a horse in California and you’ll face the same penalties as anyone convicted of a DUI.
DUIs on Horses Really Happen
A recent story in Florida really emphasizes this. Back in November, 53 year old Donna Byrne was stopped by police for riding her horse down a busy highway. Byrne reportedly seemed confused and disoriented, so police gave her a sobriety test, where she was revealed to have a BAC of .161 -twice the legal limit. As a result, the woman was charged not only with driving under the influence, but also with animal neglect for putting her horse in a dangerous situation like that. Since then, Byrne has been required to undergo treatment for alcoholism and she has been deemed unfit to care for the animal, which has remained in the custody of the local sheriff’s department since the incident.
The state has also added the additional charges of disorderly intoxication, animal endangerment and culpable negligence. Fortunately for Byrne, Florida’s DUI laws define a vehicle as a device that can be used or be drawn to transport persons (or property) on a highway -so it may be difficult for the prosecution to convince the court that a horse is a “device,” which is probably why they have thrown so many additional charges at her with the hopes that at least some of them will stick.
What is a “Vehicle” in California?
While the woman’s lawyer has defended her actions, arguing that “Donna was a pedestrian by law, and you can’t be DUI as a pedestrian,” things would go much differently if she were charged in California. That’s because California defines a vehicle as something self-propelled or powered by something other than a person. Since horses are horse powered, they would absolutely fall under this law and riders can certainly get a DUI.
Interestingly, while Florida’s definition would cover a skateboard or paddle boat, California’s does not and the only reason it is illegal to operate a bike or rowboat while under the influence is because the legislature instituted separate laws covering these devices. On the other hand, California specifically obligates riders of animals on highways to abide by all duties given to drivers of vehicles. So, this would include not riding under the influence of alcohol and or drugs.
Riding in a Dangerous Manner Can Also be Animal Neglect
On the other hand, it will be much more difficult to fight the charges of animal neglect and endangerment, given that riding a horse down a crowded highway while intoxicated undoubtedly puts the animal at risk and even Byrne’s lawyer admits that was a bad judgement call. The same would be true in California as well, which would likely result in the woman losing custody of her horse.
If you have been accused of driving under the influence or animal abuse/neglect, Peter Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free initial consultation in his office across the street from the Vista jail and courthouse.
Creative Commons Image by Joahim van der Graff