Life Imitates Jurisprudence

One of the classic entry-level conundrums we like to tease students with in Jurisprudence (a course about legal philosophy and/or the theory of law, and yes they're different) is the classic “No Vehicles in the Park” problem posed by positivist theories of law, and particularly associated with the work of HLA Hart and Lon Fuller.

The problem is simple. Suppose there's a sign saying “no vehicles in the park” — what's covered by the rule? This is a somewhat harder question to explain how one answers than to answer, which is part of what makes it fun.

Most people would agree that passenger cars are covered by the rule, but how about ambulances and police cars? (A formalist reading of “vehicle” might tend to banning them; a purpositive reading wouldn't; there are many other possibilities.) Motorcycles, ok, but how about bikes and scooters? Rocket-propelled skateboards? Baby carriages? Wheelchairs? Motorized wheelchairs?

Well, thanks to Orin Kerr, I'm directed to a case in which life imitates theory—Wheelchair DUI Case Dismissed:

A Hernando judge Monday threw out the case against a 46-year-old woman accused of driving drunk while operating her [motorized] wheelchair.

Judge Peyton Hyslop, in one of his last rulings from the bench, said the wheelchair essentially was the woman's legs and that charging her in this case would be tantamount to bringing DUI charges against anyone who was drunk and standing up.

The case boiled down to how both sides defined a wheelchair.

In the end, Hyslop determined that allowing the definition of a vehicle to include a wheelchair would violate her constitutional rights to move freely because it would treat disabled people differently from others.

Of course, this wouldn't be America without a bizzaro twist to the case unanticipated by the jurisprudes:

With his departure from the bench, Hyslop will not be around to hear Christensen's other pending case. She was charged with animal cruelty after she was accused of biting the head off a python last May.

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One Response to Life Imitates Jurisprudence

  1. trostky says:

    Now, it’s fairly common for people to be arrested for bicycling under the influence or even simply being “drunk in public,” that is, being under the influence. Given that this woman caused an accident on a public street in her wheelchair …

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