Drinking, Golfing, and Operating a Golf Cart
Golf is a competitive sport. It's also a social sport. Many golfers treat a round as a time to relax and imbibe. Golf carts don't have drink holders for nothing. Golf clubs often hold liquor licenses. Some even have huts or other drink stations out on the course. And if the golf club doesn't offer alcoholic drinks, golfers may just bring a beer or two in the golf bag strapped to the back of the golf cart. Texas's hot temperatures spur consumption of liquids of all kinds. Those hot temperatures also mean that golfers are more likely than ever to get around the course in a motorized golf cart rather than to walk the round. Golfing, drinking intoxicants, and operating golf carts just seem to go hand in hand for many golfers.
What Interests Police and Prosecutors in Golf Cart DWIs
Police and prosecutors may not have much interest in pursuing golf cart DWI charges. Some places can safely remain relatively free for intoxicated recreations. Golf courses, with their wide-open expanses and generally few golfers, are one of those places where imbibing doesn't generally carry its ordinary risks of injury. Police try to monitor public roads closely for drinking and driving because of the large number of fatalities and serious injuries related to DWIs. People are not dying with such frequency on or about golf courses from golf cart DWIs. Yet golf cart accidents do happen, some of them serious. People in the cart, walking near the cart, or in other carts or vehicles can suffer serious injury relating to golf cart DWI. The risks of golf cart DWI increase significantly when operators take the carts onto or across streets and highways used by other motor vehicles. Sometimes, police and prosecutors must pay attention to golf cart DWI.
Motorized Golf Carts Qualify for DWIs
A first natural question around a DWI charge for operating a golf cart is whether a golf cart even qualifies as a vehicle. Golf carts, after all, don't generally need registration, plates, and insurance for golf course operation. Golf cart operators don't generally need a driver's license. Yet Texas law indeed treats motorized golf carts as motor vehicles for DWI laws. Texas Penal Code §49.04 defines a DWI crime as a person being “intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle in a public place.” Texas Penal Code §49.01 defines a motor vehicle by direct reference to Texas Penal Code §32.34. That code section defines a motor vehicle as “a device in, on, or by which a person or property is or may be transported or drawn on a highway, except a device used exclusively on stationary rails or tracks.” A golf cart can transport a person on a highway. Golf carts sometimes traverse or otherwise use short stretches of highways to get around the golf course. People also use golf carts to get around the streets of small communities. In short, you can get a DWI charge for operating a golf cart.
Public and Private Golf Courses Qualify for DWIs
Another natural question around a DWI charge for operating a golf cart is whether DWI crimes apply to the streets and paths around public and private golf courses. Of course, operating a golf cart across or down a public highway would qualify for a DWI. People do use golf carts on the public highways, whether they should or not. Golfers also cross and go down short stretches of public highways to navigate some golf courses. The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles summarizes Texas golf cart registration and operation laws. The Department does not register golf carts, but county assessors do license carts for operation on certain streets. Licensed golf carts are for use only on streets with speed limits 35 miles per hour or under, within a gated community, or near a golf course.
Yet the DWI defendant need not operate a vehicle on a public highway to be subject to a DWI charge. Vehicle operation on private lands accessible as a public place can support a DWI charge. Recall that Texas Penal Code §49.04 defines the DWI crime as intoxicated operation of a vehicle “in a public place.” Statutes do not define a public place. But Texas courts make clear that who owns the land, government or private landowner, does not decide the matter. DWIs can occur on public highways or private drives, parking lots, or lands. The key factor is, instead, whether the public has access to the land. Public access decides the DWI crime's public place element. Golf courses, depending on their status, rules, and membership, may be open to a significant enough part of the public to call their streets, lots, paths, and lands a public place.
What Is a Golf Cart DWI?
Because golf carts qualify as motor vehicles for purposes of DWI laws, and streets, lots, carts, and lands around golf courses can qualify as public places, a golf cart DWI is essentially the same as any other ordinary DWI. Prosecutors would charge the golf cart DWI under the same statute, Texas Penal Code §49.04, as other DWIs. The legal limit of intoxication of .08 blood alcohol content remains the same for a golf cart as for a car, truck, or other motor vehicle. Other DWI laws, such as the enhancement of the charge for blood alcohol of .15 or greater, for serious injury DWI (known in Texas as intoxication assault), or for DWI causing death (known in Texas as intoxication manslaughter) also apply. The main difference with a golf cart DWI has to do with the fact context, not the law itself. Golf cart DWIs occur in golf carts, whether on or about the course, or on other publicly accessible streets, lots, parks, paths, or lands.
How Golf Cart DWI Detection Happens
What are the chances of getting a golf cart DWI? DWIs on public highways typically arise around moving infractions or motor-vehicle accidents. Police get calls to the accident scene, where they detect operator intoxication. Or police pull a vehicle over for excessive speed, violating traffic signals, or erratic operation, only to discover operator intoxication. DWI detection tends to happen differently around golf carts. Police are generally not monitoring safety on the course itself. Yet golf carts on some courses must cross public highways, where police may observe erratic operation. People also use golf carts on public and private highways, to go shorter distances with greater convenience. Course managers or participants on the course may also call the police to the course over a fight, argument, other alcohol-fueled boorish behavior, or other disorderly behavior or dispute. Police must sometimes keep the peace on golf courses or around golf clubhouses. And when they do, they sometimes observe evidence of DWI in a golf cart.
Defending a Golf Cart DWI
Constitutional law generally requires prosecutors to prove each element of a crime for which one could end up in jail, beyond a reasonable doubt. At all levels, Texas DWI charges are crimes for which incarceration could result. That risk of jail means that prosecutors must prove each element of Texas DWI charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Even in a golf cart DWI case, the prosecution must prove intoxication beyond the legal limit, operation of the golf cart, and the public place element, each beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution's high proof burden, the highest of burdens that law defines for any kind of case, means that the premier representation of 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year Doug Murphy can lead to a winning defense.
Texas law recognizes many potential DWI defenses. Police or medical personnel may have erred when administering DWI tests. Labs may have erred in handling and storing blood drawn for alcohol testing, and calibration of equipment. Lab personnel may have erred in measuring and reporting blood alcohol content. As a Texas Board Certified DWI Specialist, attorney Doug Murphy also has the expertise to show that police lacked probable cause to make the DWI stop and arrest. Police and detectives may have violated the defendant's right to remain silent, right to counsel, or other constitutional rights. Violations of those rights can be the basis for winning a motion to suppress the incriminating evidence. Prosecutors may have to dismiss the case or may offer a winning plea bargain.
Retain Premier Counsel for Your Golf Cart DWI Defense
Don't throw in the proverbial towel when facing a Texas golf cart DWI charge. As one of only two Texas lawyers holding both DWI Board Certification and Criminal Law Certification, attorney Doug Murphy is available to help you with an aggressive and winning golf cart DWI defense. You can trust Texas DWI defense attorney Doug Murphy, whose fellow lawyers voted him as Best Lawyers in America's 2021 Lawyer of The Year. Retaining attorney Doug Murphy gets you not just a Texas Board Certified DWI Specialist but also the 2021 Houston DWI Lawyer of the Year. Contact Doug Murphy Law Firm online or at (713) 229-8333 to discuss your case today.