On November 4, 2017, Donna Byrne, was seen riding a horse while under the influence of alcohol on a busy highway on Combee Road near North Crystal Road in Lakeland, which is 35 miles east of Tampa. Byrne was found around 3 PM, smelled like alcohol, her eyes were watery red, and she got off the horse she was moving from side to side. She had ridden the horse for a stretch between 10-15 miles long in Polk County, described a spokesman for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
According to The Orlando Sentinel, Sheriff Grady Judd explained that Ms. Byrne was not in any condition to be on the road at all. He also explained that she put both her life and the life of the horse in danger and of anyone who driving on the road during the time of the incident because that highway is known to be extremely busy. When she was finally taken of the horse and was administered a sobriety test, Byrne alcohol levels were of .157 and .161, which is twice the state’s legal limit of .08.
In 1993, an appellate court in California ruled in People vs. Fong that people riding animals on the highway are subject to the same rules as the drivers of automobiles, meaning people must ride their animals at a reasonably safe speed and avoid reckless behavior. In Florida, several criminal defense lawyers explained to The Washington Post that they are doubtful that the DUI charge will hold up in Florida court. This is supported by Florida law which states that people riding animals on roadways or shoulders are treated as pedestrians, and are not subject to the same rules as automobile drivers. According to these lawyers, if charged, a person riding a horse drunk might be charged with disorderly conduct, similarly to a publicly intoxicated pedestrian.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Department spokesman explains that the road where Ms. Byrne stopped on is a very busy road and that if someone would have hit the horse then that person would be in danger. Therefore, making Ms. Byrne a danger to herself. Based on her actions before and after the police officers arrived at the scene, the officer had sufficient probable cause to arrest her and consider the horse a vehicle. The officer further explains that this is also considered a vehicle because the woman put a saddle and bridle on this horse and was riding it to get from point A to point B, while drunk.
The laws on whether a person horseback riding can be charged with a DUI or DWI varies from state to state but, CBS News confirmed that Ms. Byrne has been charged with a DUI and animal neglect for endangering and failing to provide proper protection for the horse. Ms. Byrne’s past criminal history consist of five felony charges and ten misdemeanors, which include animal cruelty, drug possession, violation of probation, and criminal traffic.