Oct. 2, 2019 – An Oneida County man was convicted of operating while intoxicated (OWI), fourth offense, after police stopped him for riding a lawn mower on a county highway. Recently, a state appeals court upheld the OWI conviction.
In 2017, police received an anonymous tip that Keith Schoeder drove to a local bar on his lawn mower. A deputy responded and identified Schoeder riding a lawn mower, a Husqvarna, on the shoulder of a county highway in Rhinelander. He was riding home from the bar.
Schoeder turned into a condominium driveway and the deputy activated his lights, then the siren when Schoeder did not stop. Schoeder kept driving the lawn mower across a grassy area and into some trees but the deputy caught him on foot.
Schoeder appeared intoxicated, refused a field sobriety test. He was arrested and a subsequent blood draw registered a 0.119 blood alcohol concentration.
In court, Schoeder argued, in a motion to dismiss, that he could not be charged with an OWI because a lawn mower is not a “motor vehicle.” The circuit court denied the motion and Schoeder pled no contest to the OWI charge, fourth offense. Schoeder appealed.
In State v. Schoeder, 2018AP997-CR (Oct. 1, 2019), a three-judge panel for the District III Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, concluding the Schoeder’s lawn mower was a “motor vehicle,” not an “all-terrain vehicle” that is subject to different OWI penalties.
Schoeder did not dispute that a self-propelled lawn mower is “motor vehicle” within the meaning of the OWI statute, when driven on public roadways.
But he argued that a lawn mower is more accurately considered an all-terrain vehicle, which is defined as a “commercially designed and manufactured motor-driven device” with a number of attributes, including “a seat designed to be straddled by the operator.”
“Schoeder acknowledges that his lawn mower does not satisfy the requirement of having a straddle seat,” Judge Thomas Hruz wrote. “Instead, his argument appears to be that we should disregard or somehow modify the straddle seat requirement in recognition of current all-terrain vehicle manufacturing practices.”
The appeals court rejected Schoeder’s argument that some manufacturers, like John Deere and Bombardier, market all-terrain vehicles without straddle-style seats.
“Schoeder’s arguments ultimately fail for one simple reason,” Judge Hruz wrote. “Our task as a court is not to rewrite or discard statutory language to keep pace with claimed commercial developments.”
The appeals court also rejected Shoeder’s argument that the legislature did not intend to regulate lawn mowers as “motor vehicles” under the OWI statute.
“[W]hen Schoeder used the riding mower in the capacity he did – i.e., to travel from a tavern on a public roadway – and while he was intoxicated, it seems far from absurd to conclude the legislature would want such a dangerous use prohibited.”