DUI on Horseback in Utah

Stephen Howard — Stone River Law

Real Experience. Real Results.

DUI on Horseback in Utah

Can I be charged with DUI/DWI in Utah for riding a horse?

It sounds like a strange question. But strange things sometimes happen in the criminal justice system. And Utah’s Supreme Court has directly addressed the question of whether a person can be charged with DUI for riding a horse while intoxicated.

State v. Blowers – Horseback DUI

The question of whether a person can be convicted of DUI/DWI in Utah for riding a horse while intoxicated was raised in Utah’s Supreme Court in the 1980’s. The case involved two defendants who were charged and convicted of DUI based on an incident in Davis County involving two horses, two riders, and an ample amount of beer.

The charges initially resulted in convictions in the trial court. But through the efforts of a talented Utah criminal defense attorney, the Utah Supreme Court ultimately determined that a person could not be lawfully convicted of DUI for riding a horse while intoxicated. The facts set out by the Utah Supreme Court in State v. Blowers, 717 P.2d 1321 (Utah 1986) are as follows.

On the date in question, the two defendant’s spent a good part of the afternoon drinking beer and riding horses. Stories differed on the exact amount of beer and the exact details and sequence of events. The two may have been racing, or may have been just riding down the street. The horses may have been spooked by two small boys, or the drunken riders may have lost control.

The details were disputed. But in general, the evidence at trial showed that an accident occurred involving the horses. One of the rider’s sisters fell from a horse. She received a concussion. Police investigation showed that both riders were under the influence of alcohol. Both riders were charged with DUI for operating a “vehicle” while under the influence of alcohol.

Both riders were found guilty, and both riders appealed their convictions on Constitutional grounds. On appeal, the riders argued that the language of the statute did not give them “notice” that a horse qualified as a “vehicle” under Utah’s DUI law. Principles of due process require the language used in a criminal law to be sufficiently clear that an ordinary person would be able understand what conduct is prohibited or what conduct is required. A law that is not written clearly enough to provide that required notice can be unenforceable as being unconstitutionally vague.

The Utah Supreme Court determined that the term “vehicle” as used in the Utah statutes did not adequately put a person on notice that he could be prosecuted for riding a horse while drunk. The court’s decision did not completely invalidate the Utah DUI statute, but instead established that it could not be used to prosecute a person for riding a horse while drunk. The riders’ convictions were reversed on grounds that the statute did not give them the notice, as required by Constitutional Due Process, that a horse was a “vehicle” and that they could be prosecuted for DUI.

The Utah Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Blowers did not specifically address the question of whether a person could be convicted of DUI for driving a horse-drawn carriage or other animal-powered vehicle. More recent amendments to the Utah Code provide more concrete answers.

DUI for Vehicles and Motor Vehicles

Utah’s DUI statutes are codified under Title 41 governing “Motor Vehicles.” But application of DUI law is not limited to only motor vehicles.

The plain language of the DUI statute itself (41-6a-502) applies a person who operates or is in actual physical control of “a vehicle.” The definition of the term “vehicle” is spread through a number of different statutes. Here is a (relatively) short summary.

Utah Code 41-6a-501 defines the terms “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” as used in Part 5 (governing DUI and reckless driving). Both terms are defined by reference to certain other statutes in other parts of the Utah code. The terms “vehicle” and “motor vehicle” are primarily defined by reference to Utah Code 41-6a-102. That statutory definition is further expanded by reference as including an off-highway vehicle as defined under Utah Code 41-22-2 and also a motorboat as defined in Utah Code 41-6a-528.

Utah Code 41-6a-102

Utah Code 41-6a-102 defines “vehicle” broadly, as including “a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a mobile carrier, as defined in Section 41-6a-1120, or a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.”

“Motor vehicle” means a vehicle that is self-propelled and a vehicle that is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails.

did leave open, however, the question of whether a person “driving” a horse-drawn carriage or wagon might be subject to prosecution for DUI under Utah law.

If you have been charged or cited with DUI in Utah, it is important to promptly contact a criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation.

*Note: The Blowers case was decided under Utah’s then-applicable DUI law, Utah Code section 41-6-44. The Utah legislature has since amended Utah’s DUI statute, and renumbered it as section 41-6a-502. It is likely that the Supreme Court’s rationale would still apply to the new law and prohibit prosecution for DUI in cases involving a person riding a horse while drunk. But, for both legal and practical safety reasons, the author of this page strongly discourages anyone from riding a horse while drunk. It is simply not a good idea – for either the horse or the rider.