The definition of drunk driving in Texas is fairly straightforward: A person commits DWI if they are “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Typically, the most disputed element of a DWI case is whether the evidence shows that the defendant was legally intoxicated.
But what about disputes related to the definition of what qualifies as a motor vehicle? While not as common, there can be disagreement as to whether a particular mode of transportation qualifies as a “motor vehicle.” Texas law defines a motor vehicle as “a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.”
Texas Appeals Court:
Evidence Supported Jury’s Conclusion that ATV Was a Motor Vehicle
Earlier this year, the Texas Second District Court of Appeals was asked to consider whether or not an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) qualified as a “motor vehicle” for purposes of a DWI charge. This case, Flores-Garnica v. State, arose from a June 2018 incident. A police officer observed a Polaris Ranger ATV “rush into a convenience store parking lot.”
The officer then observed the ATV’s driver–the defendant in this case–come out of the store with a 12-pack of beer. The officer said the defendant then reversed out of the parking lot “in a very alarming manner” and sped away towards a nearby mobile home park.
The officer decided to initiate a stop inside the mobile home park. After smelling alcohol on the defendant’s breath and conducting some field sobriety tests, the officer concluded the defendant was legally intoxicated. Although the defendant denied his ATV was a “motor vehicle,” the officer nevertheless made an arrest for DWI.
At trial, the officer testified that he considered the ATV a “motor vehicle.” He noted that while the defendant’s Ranger “was designed for off-highway use” and did not require a license plate or insurance, the ATV was “operating on a public roadway,” i.e., the road between the mobile home park and the convenience store.
The defendant focused on the fact that ATVs were not designed for highway use. The defense submitted a publication from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which confirmed “the general rule that off-highway vehicles such as ATVs are not allowed on public roadways.” The jury, however, concluded the defendant’s ATV was a motor vehicle and convicted him of DWI. The trial court sentenced him to 120 days in jail, which was probated for 15 months.
On appeal, the defense renewed its objection to the sufficiency of the evidence proving he operated a “motor vehicle” at the time of his arrest. More precisely, the defense argued it was entitled to an instruction that the jury could take “judicial notice” of certain Texas statutes referencing facts, including the Comptroller’s publication, that made it clear an ATV was not a motor vehicle.
The Second District dismissed these arguments and upheld the defendant’s conviction, noting that the jury only needed to find that an ATV “may” be used on a public roadway, even if it was not designed expressly for that purpose.
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A first-time DWI conviction can land you in jail for up to six months. So it is important to take the matter seriously. An experienced Houston DWI attorney can advise you of your rights and help you present your case in court. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.