In the last post, this blog discussed how broadly Minnesota implied consent and drunk driving laws apply in the state. Minnesota driving while impaired statutes may be applied to a wide variety of vehicles, such as snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles and motorboats. But it is important to note that Minnesota’s DWI laws do not necessarily apply to any type of conveyance.
The Minnesota Court of Appeals handed down a decision Tuesday in a case appealed by prosecutors after the trial court threw out third-degree DWI charges against a man from Medina, Minnesota. In the trial court, the man argued that a Segway, a personal assistive mobility device, is not a vehicle and therefore the Medina man could not be charged with DWI while operating a Segway. The trial court agreed and dismissed the DWI charges. Prosecutors took the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The appellate panel ruled in a three to two split decision that the Minnesota Implied Driving Code does not apply to the Segway device. The majority on the appellate panel referred to prior Minnesota Supreme Court case law that has found that a mobility scooter was similar to a wheelchair and does not meet the definition of vehicle under Minnesota’s motor vehicle definitions. The court ruled Tuesday that the state could not pursue DWI charges against the Medina man after he was stopped on a Segway while allegedly impaired.
On appeal, Hennepin County prosecutors argued that the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling finding that the motorized scooter was different because the defendant in that case was disabled and required the motorized scooter for personal mobility. The Court of Appeals rejected the state’s argument Tuesday, saying that actual disability is not a factor in its reasoning.
A dissenting judge says that a Segway is a self-propelled device and ruled that the DWI statutes should apply to such a device.
This blog has often cautioned that a criminal charge does not mean that a defendant is guilty. Our system of justice presumes a defendant innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the Medina, Minnesota case, the trial judge and a majority of appellate judges agree, under Supreme Court precedent, that the man was not lawfully charged with DWI. The appellate panel upheld the trial court’s decision to throw out the charges as failing as a matter of law.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Appeals court upholds tossing DWI charges against Segway driver,” Abby Simons, Jan. 22, 2013
- Minnesota Court of Appeals, “State v. Greenman A12-1605, Jan. 22, 2013.”