Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC – Cycling Under the Influence

Updated


Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC is the California statute that defines the crime of cycling under the influence. This section makes it a crime to ride a bicycle on a highway while under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. The crime is often referred to as “CUI” for short. It is punishable by a fine of $250.

21200.5 VC states that “it is unlawful for any person to ride a bicycle upon a highway while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug, or under the combined influence of an alcoholic beverage and any drug.”

Examples

  • biking home drunk down a sidewalk after a night out at the bars.
  • riding a bicycle through neighborhood streets while high on marijuana.
  • swerving a cycle through town, and missing stop signs, because the rider is intoxicated.

Defenses

A defendant can beat a CUI charge with a legal defense. Common defenses include:

  • not under the influence,
  • not on a public highway, and/or
  • no probable cause to stop.

Penalties

A violation of this statute is a misdemeanor. This is opposed to a felony or an infraction.

The offense is punishable by:

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

bicyclist drinking while cycling
Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC makes it a crime for a person to cycle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both.

1. When is it a crime to cycle under the influence?

A prosecutor must prove the following to convict a person of 21200.5 VC:

  1. the defendant rode a bicycle,
  2. he rode the bicycle down a “highway,” and
  3. while riding the bike, the accused was “under the influence” of alcohol, drugs, or both.1

Questions often arise under this statute on the meaning of:

  • bicycle,
  • highway, and
  • under the influence.

1.1. Bicycle

For purposes of these laws, a “bicycle” or “cycle” is an object that is:

  • propelled by human power,
  • through a belt, chain or gears, and
  • has one or more wheels.2

Note that this definition does not include a “motorized bike.”3

Motorized bikes or mopeds are subject to California's DUI laws re: motor vehicles.4

1.2. Highway

Under VC 21200.5, a “highway” refers to any public road or street.5

A highway does not include a freeway. This is because cycles are generally prohibited on freeways.

1.3. Under the influence

California law says that a person is “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs if:

  • his mental or physical abilities are so impaired that,
  • he is no longer able to drive,
  • with the caution of a sober person.6

A judge or jury determines if a person is under the influence by looking at all the facts of the case.7

Example: Hunter is riding his bike through town. He just had lunch with a friend and had one beer. He is practicing his wheelies and jumps a few curbs. However, he stops at all stop signs and stop lights he encounters.

Here, Hunter is likely not guilty of CUI. True, wheelies and erratic jumping of a bike may suggest some type of impairment. But Hunter had only one beer and obeyed all traffic laws while cycling. An analysis of all the facts suggest that he was sober.

2. Are there legal defenses to 21200.5 VC?

A defendant can challenge an accusation under this statute with a good legal defense.

Three common defenses are:

  1. not under the influence,
  2. not on a public highway, and/or
  3. no probable cause to stop.

2.1. Not under the influence

An accused is only guilty under this statute if he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Further, this is determined by all of the facts of the case. This means it is always a defense for a defendant to:

  • use the facts of his case,
  • to show that he was indeed sober.

2.2. Not on a public highway

Recall that a cyclist has to be on a “highway” to be guilty under VC 21200.5. Therefore, it is a defense for an accused to say that he was not riding on a public road or street. Perhaps, for example, he was on a private road or someone's driveway.

2.3. No probable cause

Police often charge people under this statute:

  • after they stop a bike rider,
  • with no suspicion of intoxication.

But police must have probable cause before they can stop or arrest a suspect of a crime.

If a person was stopped or arrested for violating this statute:

  • and there was no probable cause,
  • then any evidence obtained following the improper stop could get excluded.

This exclusion could result in the dismissal or reduction in charges.

happy cyclists having a drink at a bar
A pleasant day with friends can lead to a misdemeanor if charged with a CUI

3. What are the penalties?

A violation of these laws is a misdemeanor.

The crime is punishable by:

  • a maximum fine of $250, and
  • no jail time is imposed.8

4. Can a person get a conviction expunged?

A person can get an expungement if convicted of CUI.

A judge will award an expungement provided that the defendant pays his fine.

An expungement is favorable because it removes many of the hardships associated with a conviction.

5. Are there related offenses?

There are three crimes related to cycling under the influence. These are:

  1. driving under the influence (DUI) – VC 23152a,
  2. boating under the influence (BUI) – HN 655, and
  3. public intoxication – PC 647f.

5.1. Driving under the influence (DUI) – VC 23152a

Vehicle Code 23152a VC is one of California's DUI laws. The statute makes it a crime for a person to operate a motor vehicle while "under the influence" of alcohol.

Note that “under the influence” has the same definition as it does under VC 21200.5.

5.2. Boating under the influence (BUI) – HN 655

Harbors & Navigation Code 655 HN makes boating under the influence (“BUI”) a crime.

The statute makes it a crime for a person to do any of the following:

  1. operate any boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs,
  2. operate a boat with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher,
  3. operate a commercial vessel with a BAC of 0.04 percent or higher, or
  4. operate a boat while under the influence, and while doing so, commit a negligent act that causes bodily injury to another person.

5.3. Public intoxication – PC 647f

Penal Code 647 f PC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person:

  • to be drunk,
  • while in public.

Public intoxication, under this statute, can be because of either alcohol or drug use.

For additional help...

california cycling cui defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

For information on similar crimes in Nevada, please see our articles on: “Nevada Laws re Cycling Under the Influence (CUI).”


Legal References:

  1. California Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC.

  2. California Vehicle Code 231 VC. See also Velasquez v. Superior Court (2014) 227 Cal.App.4th 1471.

  3. See same.

  4. People v. Jordan (1977) 75 Cal. App.3d Supp. 1.

  5. California Vehicle Code 360 VC.

  6. CALCRIM No. 2110 - Driving Under the Influence. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2017 edition). See also People v. Schoonover (1970) 5 Cal.App.3d 101; and, People v. Enriquez (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 661.

  7. See same.

  8. California Vehicle Code 21200.5 VC.

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