In State v. Koeppen, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decided an interesting issue with respect to OWI/PAC violations: Whether the defendant could violate Wisconsin OWI/PAC statute, Wis. Stat. § 346.63(1) by operating a motor bicycle with a prohibited alcohol concentration and/or while under the influence. Specifically, the court addressed whether a motor bicycle is a “motor vehicle” as used in the OWI/PAC statute. The defendant, Koeppen, was riding a motor bicycle when he approached an officer and interfered with the officer’s activities in a separate traffic stop. Eventually, Koeppen accelerated away from the officer on his motor bicycle with his feet dangling off the sides. When he stopped Koeppen, the officer observed the motor bicycle’s ignition switch was on, indicating Koeppen was using the bicycle’s self-propelling function rather than the manual pedals. Koeppen exhibited numerous signs of intoxication and the officer found multiple open bottles of vodka as well as weapons during his search of Koeppen. Koeppen’s blood alcohol level tested at 0.175. Koeppen was charged with numerous violations but only the OWI and PAC charges (5th or 6th offense) were at issue in the circuit court and on appeal. The circuit court dismissed the charges finding the OWI/PAC statute applied only to “motor vehicles,” and therefore the complaint did not allege probable cause because it stated that Koeppen was operating a motor bicycle. The state appealed.
The court of appeals reversed. The OWI/PAC statute prohibits a person from operating a “motor vehicle” while under the influence of an intoxicant or with a prohibited alcohol concentration. The court explained that a “motor bicycle” is a “vehicle” under Wis. Stat. § 340.01(74) because it is a device upon which a person may be transported. Next, the court turned to § 340.01(35), Wis. Stats., which identifies those “vehicles” that are “motor vehicles.” “Motor vehicle” is defined to include self-propelled vehicles, except those operating exclusively on a rail. Because the motor bicycle could be self-propelled, and in fact, it was alleged that it was operating in this mode at the time of the offense, the motor bicycle was a “motor vehicle”. Therefore, the court found, at least when operated in a self-propelled manner, a motor bicycle is a “motor vehicle” for purposes of the OWI/PAC statute. The court then turned to Koeppen’s arguments. First, after reviewing the actual language of § 346.02(4)(a), the court found that the statute did not, as Koeppen argued, mean that motor bicycles are always treated in the same way as bicycles. The court also declined to adopt Koeppen’s argument that the legislative history of §346.02(4)(a) supported his argument for two reasons. First, the court did not need to consider extrinsic evidence such as legislative history because the statutes it previously discussed were unambiguous. Further, the actual legislative history did not support Koeppen’s argument. Finally, inferring that Koeppen intended to assert an “absurd” or “unreasonable” results argument, the court, too, rejected that argument, explaining that it’s decision did not mean that motor bicycles would be entitled to use full traffic lanes. Finally, the court found it unnecessary to address the State’s position that a motor bicycle will sometimes be a “motor vehicle” and other times will not because in this case for purposes of probable cause, there was no dispute that the complaint alleged the motor bicycle was being utilized in the self-propelled mode and thus, constituted a “motor vehicle”. The case was remanded for further proceedings.
While these particular facts may not present themselves often, the case provides an interesting discussion of the interplay of the OWI/PAC statute and other motor vehicle statutes as well as insight into the court’s application of them.