Pennsylvania DUI for Riding a Horse? Too Drunk to Ride Safely?


A man in Denver was recently arrested for riding a horse while under the influence of alcohol along with a few other criminal offenses. This caused me to ponder whether or not a person could be charged with a DUI for being too drunk to ride safely in Pennsylvania. I have recently written about  Pennsylvania DUI laws and whether they would apply to bikes, skateboards, and Segways, so I checked out horseback riding.

Is a Horseback DUI Possible in Pennsylvania?

There is a law in Pennsylvania, found at 75 Pa.C.S.A. 3103, that states: “[e]very person riding an animal or driving any animal-drawn vehicle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle by this part, except those provisions of this part which by their very nature can have no application or where specifically provided otherwise.” Basically, this law says that a person riding a horse must comply with traffic laws unless the laws by their very nature have no application.

Despite the law “being on the books,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held in 2004 that the law was unconstitutional, so the law is not actually valid at this point. In Commonwealth v. Noel, the Pennsylvania State Police had stopped two drunk horseback riders in Springfield Township, Mercer County, and ultimately charged them with Driving Under the Influence and Public Drunkenness. The DUI defense lawyers for the men presented various arguments and sought the dismissal of the charges, but one of the arguments was that the law was unconstitutionally vague and thereby unenforceable. A law is required to be written with enough specificity so that it gives people notice as to what conduct would be criminal.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the defense attorneys and held that section 3103 was unconstitutionally vague. The Court noted that Part III of the Vehicle Code lists over 120 provisions that are applicable to “vehicles” but may not be applicable to horseback riders. Based upon the Supreme Court’s decision, and despite the fact that the law remains on the books, a person cannot be convicted for a Pennsylvania DUI for riding a horse while under the influence.

Other Pennsylvania Criminal Charges

In the Denver incident, the man was charged with misdemeanor offenses of Animal Cruelty, Prohibited Use of Weapons, and Reckless Endangerment, but the riding under the influence only resulted in a traffic citation for Riding a Horse While Under the Influence of Alcohol. The animal cruelty charge was based upon allegations that the man struck the horse hard enough that the horse reared onto its back legs, and this probably led to the reckless  endangerment charge because the incident occurred around people that could have been injured.

Had this incident happened in Pennsylvania, the man would have been charged with Public Drunkenness, 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5505, a non-traffic summary offense. The charge is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500.00 fine for a first offense, with the fine increasing to $1,000.00 for any subsequent violation. While the man could have been arrested in Pennsylvania for being drunk in public, he could not have been arrested for DUI.