Florida Man In Wheelchair Charged With DUI

A Florida man riding in a motorized wheelchair has been arrested on a DUI charge after allegedly blocking traffic in a late-night incident.

The alleged DUI occurred in Palm Bay, Florida, on the east coast of the state near Cape Canaveral and just south of Melbourne.

“Police in Palm Bay say Ronny Hicks was behind the wheel of his motorized wheelchair when they responded to calls about a man driving erratically and blocking people near a pedestrian bridge. According to the arrest report, the 54-year-old appeared highly intoxicated. His speech was slurred speech and he was acting confused,” Fox 13 reported.

The suspect was reportedly uncooperative with police on the scene when it occurred sometime after midnight and was unwilling to submit to field sobriety testing, WKMG in Orlando added. The man apparently also has two previous driving under the influence busts on his rap sheet based on public records maintained by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, the most recent in 2013. He was driving a car rather than traveling in a wheelchair in those prior arrests, according to ABC News affiliate WBRZ.

Palm Bay Florida taken near U.S.1 [Palm Bay, Florida, photo courtesy of Leonard J. DeFrancisci via Wikimedia Commons, resized, CC BY-SA 3.0]The Brevard Sheriff’s record also discloses a February 2015 arrest for alleged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without the intent to kill.

Cops indicated that a head injury depicted in the mug shot occurred prior to the DUI arrest. Evidently he declined treatment for the wound after being taken into custody by the officers.

As of Wednesday, the suspect was being held on a maximum $5,000 bond in Brevard County Jail, according to NBC News, because it was allegedly his third DUI within a 10-year period. The presiding judge initially was reluctant to impose that high a bond, “But after allowing the state to speak confidentially with medical staff regarding Hicks’ need for a wheelchair, the judge approved the $5,000 bond.”

Hicks’ attorney maintains that a conviction is unlikely if the case ever gets to a jury, however.

Police car flashing lights [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images News]Even if a potential offender is operating something other than a motor vehicle, legal precedent exists in various jurisdictions across the country for drunk driving charges in non-auto conveyances such as wheelchairs, bikes, or horses, the Findlaw website previously explained in a summary that predated the Palm Bay case.

“The basic elements in all of these non-car DUI cases is that a person was above the legal drinking limit (0.08 percent BAC) and on/in/operating something that was moving. However, you can even get a DUI when you’re parked and sleeping it off…For those individuals who need wheelchairs to move from place to place, a wheelchair DUI may seem like malarkey — especially when other drunk individuals can legally walk (or stumble) home. The Americans with Disabilities Act prevents government discrimination based on disability, and unequal treatment from wheelchair DUIs might qualify. But short of hiring a civil rights attorney, a better strategy for avoiding wheelchair DUIs is to not operate a wheelchair while impaired.”

The DUIWise website notes that state DUI statutes vary depending on how vehicle and/or motor vehicle is defined in the law books in a particular jurisdiction.

Florida criminal defense attorney Spencer Cordell concurs that a conviction in this case is remote. “However, the incident happened in public, and he was apparently obstructing other people with his vehicle. Basically, any device on wheels is a vehicle under Florida law, and subject to DUI sanctions. Because this is his third offense, he could potentially be facing felony charges.”

“I personally worked on a case for a DUI on a tricycle, a few years back, and this tops it,” he added on his crimcourts blog.

Do you think it is fair or appropriate to charge a man riding in an electric wheelchair with DUI?

[feature photo via Brevard County Sheriff’s Office]