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Riding Mower not a Motor Vehicle under Georgia Theft Laws

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 25, 2009 12:11 PM

If you are going to steal motor vehicles of any kind and go joy riding, stop to consider which state you are in before taking well, anything, out for a spin. In recent cases that have received much attention, we can now add to our collective knowledge that a Lay-Z-Boy (or any other brand name recliner), when motorized, is a vehicle for the purposes of DUI law (at least in Minnesota). In Ohio, do not drive a motorized barstool under the influence. As clarified by Georgia's Supreme Court, however, you can get away with a bit more on a riding lawnmower (at least while sober).

Defendant Franklin Lloyd Harris was convicted of stealing a riding mower from a Home Depot in Dalton, Ga, in 2006. His precise charges were that of: 1) theft of a motor vehicle, and 2) felony theft by taking. During trial, Harris's lawyer moved to have the motor vehicle count dismissed arguing, of course, that the riding mower was not a motor vehicle as defined under the statute. The court denied the motion and the jury convicted Harris on both counts. Harris, proud owner of three prior felony convictions, was sentenced to a resounding 10 years in prison. The Georgia State Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence.

Not one to give up easily, Harris appealed to the state's highest court. The Georgia Supreme Court, in a 25 page opinion, agreed that a mower was not a motor vehicle under Georgia's theft laws. The court found:

"A 'motor vehicle' is commonly understood to mean a self-propelled vehicle with wheels that is designed to be used, or is ordinarily used, to transport people or property on roads. ... By this ordinary meaning, a riding lawn mower is not a 'motor vehicle.' To be sure, a riding lawnmower is capable of transporting people or property and of driving on the street for short stretches, but that is not what the machine is designed for or how it is normally used - there being little grass to mow on streets, and there being faster and less noisy ways of moving people and property around."

The court's discussion of the meaning of the term "motor vehicle" extends for several more pages, but the result is clear. A riding mower is not a "motor vehicle" under Georgia theft laws. The Court accordingly reversed the conviction on count one, theft of a motor vehicle, and remanded sentencing back to the trial court. Unfortunately for the persistent Harris, since the value of the lawn mower exceeded $500, under Georgia law, he may still be looking at 10 years behind bars.

Of course, we will update you when and if Georgia's high court opines on whether a tippling driver causes a riding mower to become a "motor vehicle" for purposes of DUI laws.

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