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Court upholds drunk ATV driver ruling

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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A driver of an ATV shouldn't be prosecuted for driving under the influence on his own property because charges were brought under the wrong statute, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In State of Indiana v. Adam L. Manuwal, No. 50A05-0703-CR-182, the state charged Manuwal with OWI with an alcohol concentration equivalent of at least .15 after he had crashed an ATV he was operating on his own property. Manuwal was injured as a result of the accident and while at the hospital, his blood was drawn to determine his blood-alcohol content.

Manuwal filed a verified petition for a motion to dismiss, challenging the legality of the "arrest, detention, and seizure." The trial court granted his petition on the grounds he operated his ATV on his own private property, away from the public roadway, and his actions didn't impact the public's safety, so he shouldn't be charged for operating while intoxicated. The state appealed.

The state contends the petition should be reversed because the police officer at the scene believed Manuwal committed offenses that would fall under the OWI statutes, Indiana Code 9-30-5-1 and -2, and these statutes don't restrict the offenses to only public thoroughfares.

Chief Judge John Baker, citing State v. Greenwood, wrote that the off-road statute should apply to Manuwal's case because when two statutes with similar subject matter cannot be harmonized, the more detailed statute should prevail. Because there is no requirement for an off-road vehicle driver to have a driver's license to drive on private property, unlike the OWI statute, the court concluded the trial court properly granted the motion to dismiss because he was improperly charged under the OWI statutes.

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented in a separate opinion, writing that the majority altered the stated issue of the appeal. The original issue was whether the OWI statutes would apply to conduct committed on private property, which I.C. 9-30-5-9 clarifies. It states, "It is not a defense in an action under this chapter that the accused person was operating a vehicle in a place other than on a highway."

Instead, the majority turned the issue into one about prosecutorial direction, Judge Vaidik wrote, which she believed resulted into an incorrect application of the law.

"...The language of Indiana Code chapter 9-30-5 expressly allows for charges of Operating While Intoxicated for driving intoxicated while off-highway, ...I believe that it is clear under our case law that the prosecutor in this case had the discretion to charge Manuwal under either statute. Manuwal was not improperly charged," she wrote.
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