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Court rules on farm tractor operation case

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Farm tractor drivers can’t be charged with driving with a suspended license, but they can be charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, according to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Those holdings come with today’s ruling in State of Indiana v. Richard J. Laker, Jr. , No. 24A04-0912-CR-736, out of Franklin Circuit Court. Police spotted a white Lexus in a ditch off to the side of the road in Franklin County in 2008, and an officer dispatched to investigate found Edinburgh resident Richard Laker at the scene hitching the car up to the back of a Massey Ferguson farm tractor. The man told police that a friend had wrecked the car and asked him to tow it out of the ditch, and the officer learned that Laker had a suspended driver’s license and also appeared to be intoxicated; a blood test later indicated the man’s blood alcohol content was .10. Laker was arrested.

In a probable cause affidavit attached to the charging information, the officer described the vehicle as the red Massey Ferguson tractor and also referred to that tractor in two information and summons tickets. Laker moved to dismiss the charges based on them being predicated on his operation of the farm tractor, and Circuit Judge Clay Kellerman dismissed all the counts on the grounds that they couldn’t serve as the basis for any of the alleged offenses.

On appeal, the panel affirmed the trial judge on the dismissal of the driving while suspended count because Indiana Code section 9-13-2-105 provides that the term “motor vehicle” “does not include a farm tractor.”

But the panel disagreed on the OWI-specific count, since I.C. § 9-13-2-196 specifics that a “vehicle” is any “device for transportation by land or air” and “in, upon or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway.” No farm tractor exemption is detailed in the statute, the court found, stating that only an electric personal assistive mobility device is exempt. The panel also cited State v. Manuwal, 904 N.E.2d 657 (Ind. 2009) that held OWI statutes apply to the operation of all-terrain vehicles.

The appellate panel remanded that latter issue to the trial court.

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