Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bicycle DUI still rare in Utah

Posted By on December 31, 2009, 9:34 AM

After writing this week about a man who received a DUI while bicycling in Utah, a co-worker asked me for practical advice. He bikes nearly everywhere, including to and from bars. He wanted my assesment of just how much legal jeopardy he's placing himself in.

I wish I had a great answer. But my story doesn't give this "news you can use" advice because the very point of the story was to demonstrate how uncertain the current legal regime is. Nevertheless, let me give my best practical observations and suspicions--this is not legal advice. ---

Most bicyclists today are unlikely to be arrested, charged and/or convicted of DUI in Utah. All my sources tell me that this is very rare (if you have evidence to the contrary, please let me know).

That's in part because of the legal confusion surrounding the issue, as I reported in the story. It's just not entirely clear that bikes are included in the DUI law and that the law is Constitutional, one Vernal judge's opinion notwithstanding. Without revision from the legislature nor input from higher courts, it's up to individual judges to decide whether bikes are included. Prosecutors also have a lot of discretion. Salt Lake City Prosecutor Sim Gill says that in "99 out of 100" cases of DUI-bike, he would file lesser charges like public intoxication. So you're probably legally safe in SLC, but that says nothing about the dozens of local prosecutors across the state in other municipalities.

The Solmo case will be appealed, making it something of a test case, though it won't really earn that status entirely until one of the appellate courts agrees to hear it. If they refuse to hear it, the legal gray area will persist.

That gray area is at least partly why some police departments and prosecutors don't file DUI-bike charges, although no prosecutors have admitted as much to me. It stings when the Supreme Court uses the word "absurd" 39 times in a 13-page decision to describe the actions of a prosecutor (like when Weber County prosecutors' felony sex-crime charges against a 12- and 13-year-old for engaging in a consensual sex act with each other were tossed in 2007). It's just not resume material.

Other police departments and prosecutors may see this issue as one of priorities, and usually would not file DUI charges against cyclists even if the Utah Supreme Court itself told them that it is perfectly legal. There are only so many officers and prosecutors, after all, so some may decide that it's best to concentrate those resources on the more deadly DUI, that being in cars. That was Gill's view. If I were an occasional drunk biker who lived outside Salt Lake City, I'd make a call to my local prosecutor to ask about his or her feelings on the matter.%uFFFD

So, in short, there is no easy answer, and even if you are arrested by police for DUI-bike, you may not be charged with a DUI by the prosecutor, and even if you are charged with it, the judge may toss it out. On the other hand, the Solmo case demonstrates that it's entirely possible in Utah to be arrested, charged and convicted of DUI for riding drunk on a bike.%uFFFD

But also note that driving a bike with even minimal amount of alcohol is dangerous, as I reported in my story. Wear a helmet. And be safe. And keep reading City Weekly, as we will follow the Solmo case to its eventual resolution.%uFFFD

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Jesse Fruhwirth

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