DUI law applies to boom lifts in Vermont, according to Supreme Court

01 August 2011

The Vermont Supreme Court has reinstated charges against a Franklin County man accused of operating a boom lift while he was under the influence of alcohol.

Justices unanimously overturned a lower-court judge's ruling that threw out charges against construction worker Scott Smith, whose attorneys had argued that the boom wasn't a "motor vehicle" under state law for the purposes of drunken driving violations, according to court records and the Burlington Free Press newspaper.

"That the machine travels at a relatively slow speed and is generally driven only relatively short distances is immaterial," Associate Justice John Dooley wrote in the high court's opinion. "The boom lift may proceed slowly, but it is a large piece of heavy machinery that could inflict personal injury or property damage if it ran into a person or personal or real property."

Associate Justice Dooley defined the boom as "a motorized wheeled machine used to elevate and move workers around building sites" and as "a machine with four wheels and a gas or oil fueled motor. The operator stands in the bucket at the end of the lift arm to engage the motor to travel to the precise position required for work."

According to police reports, Smith was arrested at 1:10 a.m. on May 28, 2010 after a police officer saw Smith driving the boom from a parking lot outside a local courthouse to a location across the street where the boom would be refueled for the next morning. Smith told officers he had forgotten to move the lift during the day.

When the police officer approached Smith, he smelled a "strong odor of intoxicants on him and noticed he was slurring his words and swaying back and forth while standing still," Associate Justice Dooley wrote.

A breath test was then given to Smith which registered a blood alcohol content of 0.203 percent, almost three times the legal limit for driving of 0.08, according to Justice's opinion. Smith was charged, but Judge Gregory Rainville ultimately concluded a boom lift was not a "motor vehicle" as defined by Vermont's DUI statute and dismissed the charges, thus dismissing the case.

The decision reinstates charges of DUI and driving with a suspended license.

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