In State v. James Anthony Brown, Jr., filed June 13, 2011, the Court of Appeals reversed a district court order finding Brown guilty of DWI for an incident that occurred while he was driving a motorized mobility scooter.
The district court incorrectly held that the motorized scooter was a motor vehicle, and therefore, since Brown was operating the scooter while under the influence of alcohol found him guilty of DWI.
Brown, who is physically disabled, uses a three wheel scooter to get around for daily activities. On July 29, 2009, Brown, who was intoxicated, drove his scooter on the city sidewalks to a car dealership. The car dealership called the police to report concern that Brown may be intoxicated. The police arrived and arrested Brown who had an alcohol concentration of 0.17. The district court determined that Brown’s motorized mobility scooter was a motor vehicle as defined by Minnesota Statute § 169A.03, subd. 15 (2008) because the scooter was “self-propelled” and not moved solely by human power. Upon making this determination, the district court found Brown guilty of DWI in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169A.20 (2008) which prohibits operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
The Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling finding that if a motorized device is used for mobility, it is not a motor vehicle as defined by Minn. Stat. § 169A.03, subd. 15 (2008). Minn. Stat. § 169.011, subd. 42 (2008) excludes “an electric personal assistive mobility device” under the definitions of motor vehicles. In addition, Minn. Stat. § 169.011, subd. 53 (2008) defines “pedestrian” as “a person afoot or in a wheelchair,” and “wheelchair” is defined by Minn. Stat. § 169.011, subd. 93 (2008) as “any manual or motorized wheelchair, scooter, tricycle, or similar device used by a disable person as a substitute for walking.”
Therefore, the Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s DWI conviction using the statutory definitions under the law. Brown was using a device intended to assist him in lieu of walking, and he was operating the device in accordance with the state guidelines. By carefully considering the plain language of the state laws, the Court of Appeals concluded that a mobility scooter is not a motor vehicle, and as such, there was no basis to find that Brown was in violation of Minnesota DWI laws.