James Richard Greene was acquitted by the Oregon Court of Appeals on December 29, 2016, of driving under the influence of intoxicants while he was operating his motorized wheelchair.
On October 16, 2012 James Greene turned his motorized wheelchair from a sidewalk onto a marked crosswalk in Lincoln County, Oregon. The 56-year-old Greene then drove his wheelchair into the side of a moving truck. Greene was injured and received medical care. The officer who arrived at the scene determined Greene was intoxicated, and he was arrested.
Greene was charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants. His prosecution was based on the Lincoln County District Attorney considering a motorized wheelchair to be a “vehicle” under Oregon’s DUII statute. Thus when Greene was operating his wheelchair on the street he was driving a vehicle.
After a two day trial Greene was convicted by a jury in June 2013. Greene made a motion for a judgment of acquittal. He didn’t contest the evidence established he was intoxicated. His motion was based on the argument his wheelchair isn’t a vehicle under Oregon’s DUII law, so the prosecution failed to prove he was driving while intoxicated. The judge denied Greene’s motion, siding with the prosecution’s argument that a motorized wheelchair is a “vehicle” when on a street.
The judge sentenced Greene to pay a $1,500 fine and suspended his driver’s license for three years.
Greene appealed. His lawyer argued that ORS 801.385 specifically defines “pedestrian” for purposes of the vehicle code, as “any person afoot or confined in a wheelchair.”
On December 29, 2016 the Oregon Court of Appeals unanimously reversed Greene’s conviction and ordered his acquittal. The Court determined that when a wheelchair is in an area of a street intended for pedestrians — such as a crosswalk — the operator is a pedestrian and not subject to Oregon’s DUII law. It was undisputed by the prosecution that Greene’s wheelchair was in a pedestrian crosswalk when he collided with the truck. The Court ruled in State of Oregon v. James Richard Greene, 283 Or. App. 120 (2016):
“Here, the evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the state establishes that defendant left a sidewalk in his motorized wheelchair and travelled in a crosswalk. Accordingly, defendant was a pedestrian and not a driver of a vehicle for purposes of the DUII statutes. Hence, the trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion for a judgment of acquittal.”
Although it didn’t apply to Greene, the Court’s ruling noted that a person can be charged with DUII when operating a wheelchair in a bike lane, because Oregon law specifically authorizes the prosecution of a drunken bike rider.
Click here to read State of Oregon v. James Richard Greene, 283 Or App 120 (Ore. Ct. of Appeals, 12-29-2016).
Greene’s $1,500 fine will be reimbursed, however he has completed his three year driving prohibition.