First, I must admit that everyone knows that a skateboard is not a "vehicle" under the commonly understood definition of the word. However, as I often explain to my criminal defense clients, the law often does not make sense. The legal definition of "vehicle" in Pennsylvania is much broader and covers more things than people would expect. If a skateboard is a vehicle under Pennsylvania law, then a person riding a skateboard must comply with all traffic laws, the same as a vehicle. For Penn State students, this means that they could be charged with relatively minor violations of the law, such as failure to stop at a stop sign, but also more severe charges like DUI for riding a skateboard while intoxicated.
In Policy SY 16, the Penn State Police advise students that a skateboard is not a "vehicle" under Pennsylvania law. I disagree. Pennsylvania law defines "vehicle" at 75 Pa.C.S.A. 102 as being "[e]very device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway." Clearly, the definition of the word is very broad. Bicycles have routinely been held by Pennsylvania courts to be a "vehicle," which is why people can get a bike DUI. In my opinion, a skateboard is clearly a device on which a person may be transported and thereby is a vehicle.
I searched Pennsylvania court cases and could not find a case in which a court decided the issue of whether or not a skateboard was vehicle. I believe that the lack of cases on the issue is most likely because people are only starting to ride skateboards for transportation purposes instead of riding them solely for sport. An Oregon man was recently charged with driving under the influence after he rode his skateboard into the path of an oncoming van.
Why Are the Penn State Police Giving Legal Advice?
If Pennsylvania courts had addressed this issue and expressly stated that a skateboard was not a "vehicle," then I have no problem with the Penn State Police Department advising students as to the current law. For example, the police can readily inform the public that a person can be charged with a DUI for riding a bicycle while drunk. However, when the issue isn't decided, non-lawyers should not be giving legal advice. What happens if a Penn State student is charged with a skateboard DUI and the student raises the Penn State policy statement as a defense? Regrettably, the student's defense would fail because Pennsylvania law, not the Penn State police, determines what modes of transportation are considered a "vehicle."
Too many people charged with criminal offenses call the police officer or the court and ask for legal advice. The police and court staff generally do not intend to give bad advice or hurt the student, but their role in the criminal justice system is not to get the best resolution for the client. That is the job of a criminal defense lawyer.
Cop Gave Bad Advice in State College Possession of Fake ID Case
I recently took a call from a parent of a Penn State student that had been charged with a summary non-traffic offense of Possession of a False Identification Card in State College. The mother contacted the officer to discuss the charge, and, after being told by the officer that the charge would not appear on background searches, the mother had her daughter plead guilty to the charge. The daughter later applied for a good job and failed to report the charge on the employment application because she had been told that it would not appear on the background search. She was shocked to find out that the offense did in fact appear, and she was devastated to be told that she would not be given the job because of the charge. Had the mother contacted a criminal defense attorney near Penn State for a free consultation, she would have been told that Pennsylvania summary convictions do appear on criminal background searches in many situations. A Fake ID defense attorney may have been able to negotiate a resolution that resulted in a dismissal of the charge and thereby allowed for an expungement.
Take Legal Advice from an Experienced Lawyer
The moral of the story is that if you are charged with a criminal offense, talk to a criminal defense lawyer that has experience in providing representation in the area in which the offense occurred. A local attorney should know the tendencies of the police, prosecutors, and judges in the area. While the laws in Pennsylvania are generally uniform across the state, the way the laws are implemented is very different. If you are charged in Pittsburgh, do not call me. Instead, call a Pittsburgh defense lawyer like Gary Gerson or Jill Sinatra. In Philadelphia, call defense attorney Brian Fishman. If you are a Penn State student at University Park or Altoona and get charged with DUI, Furnishing Alcohol to Minors, Fake ID, or marijuana possession, then call State College defense lawyer Jason S. Dunkle.