A Florida man recently decided to take a joyride through a Walmart store on a motorized shopping cart while helping himself to alcohol from the shelves without paying for it. The man was charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI) and Retail Theft.
Grading of Pennsylvania Retail Theft Charges
The Retail Theft charge was graded as a felony, but that was simply because the man had a few prior offenses in his past. In Pennsylvania, the severity and range of sentences for a Retail Theft charge is increased if the person has prior convictions. For example, stealing a pack of gum in Pennsylvania would be a summary offense. However, if the person had a prior Retail Theft conviction, a second offense of stealing the same 50-cent pack of gum is a misdemeanor and a third offense is a felony charge. Therefore, since the article states that this man had prior offenses, he would have been charged with Retail Theft graded as a felony of the third degree. A third-degree felony has a maximum sentence of 7 years in jail and a $15,000.00 fine.
Would this be a DUI in Pennsylvania?
I expect that people may wonder how a person could be charged with a DUI when the man was not driving a car and was only operating the cart on private property. First, most states, including Pennsylvania, use a very broad definition for term "vehicle." Pennsylvania actually defines "vehicle" as "every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices used exclusively upon rails or tracks." Therefore, people have been charged with DUI offenses while riding a bike, skateboard, lawn tractor, and even Amish have been charged with DUI for operating their buggies while under the influence. While the term "vehicle" is very broad in Pennsylvania, the definition does state that the "term does not include a self-propelled wheel chair or an electrical mobility device operated by and designed for the exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability." In this case, I believe that a strong argument could be made that the motorized shopping cart was an electrical mobility device designed for exclusive use of a person with a mobility-related disability.
Even if the motorized cart were considered to be a "vehicle," the man never drove the cart on a highway or trafficway. The Pennsylvania DUI law and other major vehicle code laws only apply if the vehicle was operated on a highway or trafficway. The courts in Pennsylvania had interpreted the word "trafficways" to include parking garages and lots, so, had the man operated a vehicle in the Walmart parking lot, he could have been charged with a DUI. However, here, the man only drove drunk in the store, which, in Pennsylvania, would have resulted in charges of Public Drunkenness and possibly Disorderly Conduct, but he would not have been charged with Driving Under the Influence.