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Pennsylvania’s drunken driving law is unconstitutionally vague and can’t be enforced — at least against those on horseback, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. Justice Russell M. Nigro penned the majority opinion that stems from charges filed against two men in Mercer County in 2002. Keith Travis, 41, of Grove City, and Richard Noel, 49, of Sandy Lake, were charged with drunken driving along with a man driving a pickup who allegedly rear-ended the horse Travis was riding away from a bar on a dark country road. Noel, Travis and the pickup truck driver all failed field sobriety tests, police said, but a Mercer County judge threw out the charges against Noel and Travis after they argued that the word “vehicles” in the state’s drunken-driving law doesn’t apply to horses. Prosecutors noted that the vehicle code specifically includes people riding animals, except for those provisions “which by their very nature can have no application.” Because it is unsafe for a drunk person to ride an animal, just as it would be to drive a car, the prosecutors appealed, prompting Wednesday’s decision. But the majority justices relied on the logic in a similar case out of Utah, in which judges said such a statute is confusing and too vague about which regulations — such as requirements for headlamps — would apply to animals as well as vehicles. The Associated Press couldn’t immediately locate phone numbers for Noel, Travis and their attorneys. Mercer County prosecutors couldn’t immediately be reached after business hours Wednesday. Justice Michael Eakin issued the lone dissent. “It is the ‘rules of the road’ that apply to the driver of the mustang and Mustang alike,” Eakin wrote. “Here, an ordinary person of common intelligence would know that riding a horse while intoxicated would be a violation … just as the same person would recognize that the rider of a horse must stop at a stop sign, ride on the right side of the road, and signal before turning.” Eakin, who is fond of writing rhyming opinions, summed up his dissent with two stanzas mimicking the theme song of television’s “Mister Ed” — a 60s sitcom about a talking horse: “A horse is a horse, of course, of course, but the Vehicle Code does not divorce its application from, perforce, a steed as my colleagues said. “‘It’s not vague,’ I’ll say until I’m hoarse, and whether a car, a truck or horse this law applies with equal force, and I’d reverse instead.” Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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