A 59-year-old Lafourche Parish man contesting a DWI charge he received while riding a lawnmower has decided to plead guilty, his lawyer said.
The plea comes after a Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal ruling of a similar case in Terrebonne Parish.
Brian Cheramie, of Cut Off, was charged with his second DWI about 12:15 a.m. May 19 after deputies saw him swerve into the westbound lane of traffic and travel back to the shoulder while riding a lawnmower on La. 3162, the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office said.
Cheramie, who was also wanted on a contempt of court charge in Golden Meadow, admitted to deputies he drank several beers before driving the lawnmower, authorities said. A breath test showed Cheramie’s blood-alcohol level at 0.144 percent, which is over the legal limit of .08 percent.
After performing poorly on the field sobriety and breath tests, Cheramie was transported to the Lafourche Parish jail, where he was released after posting a $2,800 bond on May 25.
Lafourche’s Chief Public Defender Mark Plaisance asked the court to toss out his client’s DWI, arguing a lawnmower wasn’t clearly defined by law as a motor vehicle.
The law defines a DWI as “the operating of any motor vehicle, aircraft, watercraft, vessel or other means of conveyance” while the operator is under the influence. However, the statute never clearly defines what those are, Plaisance said.
“The statute does not define motor vehicle, nor does it define aircraft, watercraft, vessel and especially ‘other means of conveyance’ ” Plaisance said. “Logic dictates a lawnmower is generally understood not to be an aircraft, watercraft or vessel. Thus, the question is whether a lawnmower is either a motor vehicle or ‘other means of conveyance.’”
After the appellate court reinstated DWI charges for a Montegut man accused of driving drunk on a riding lawnmower last year, Cheramie decided to plead guilty to his own charges, court records show.
However, the First Circuit’s ruling had no bearing on Cheramie’s decision, Plaisance said.
“It was in the best interest for my client,” Plaisance said. “The state and I were able to work out a reasonable fine and programs he had to attend. He just wanted to put it behind him. It had nothing to do with the First Circuit. My client just wanted to own up to what he did and get on with his life.”
As a result of his plea, Cheramie was ordered to pay a fine, attend a DWI class, complete 240 hours of community service and was given probation.
In its Sept. 24 ruling, the appellate court contended that a lawnmower could be used as a motor vehicle.
“The words ‘motor vehicle,’ ‘aircraft’ and ‘vessel’ refer to inanimate objects of which the operation and control is dependent on the actions of the driver,” the court wrote. “The Traffic Code, itself entitled ‘Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation,’ provides a definition for ‘motor vehicle’ as well as ‘vehicle.’ ‘Motor vehicle,’ in pertinent part, means every vehicle which is self-propelled. ‘Vehicle,’ in pertinent part, means every device by which persons or things may be transported upon a public highway or bridge, except devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks.
“Considering the plain words of the statute and consistent with the legislative history, we find that the legislature intended to protect the public from the type of actions alleged in this case,” the court continued. “The legislative history implies a legislative concern to regulate the use and operation of any motor vehicle or other means of conveyance and to safeguard the people of this sate from injury or death caused by drivers who operate their self-propelled vehicles while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or narcotic drugs.”
Plaisance foresees the issue going before the state Supreme Court.
“I think it might lead to some consequences because the First Circuit’s opinion seemed to indicate that a lawnmower was a motor vehicle,” Plaisance said. “So if it is a motor vehicle, does it qualify as a motor vehicle under the theft of a motor vehicle statute? When we think of a theft of a motor vehicle, someone takes a car. I think the Supreme Court will look at the case. I think we had a very good argument despite the First Circuit’s opinion.”
Staff Writer Dan Copp can be reached at 857-2202 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@DanVCopp.
Posted on Tue, October 23, 2018
by By Dan Copp, Houma Today Staff Writer