Far more frequently than most people realize, a criminal conviction depends predominantly on the definition of a word or phrase, or on the interpretation of that word or phrase, in the statute under which the defendant was charged. Such was the case in
State v. Frederick, 291 Neb. 243, that made its way all the way to the Nebraska Supreme Court in an attempt to define the term “public highway” found in the state’s statute which prohibits an individual from operating a motor vehicle with a suspended or revoked license while on a public highway. The defendant in the case at hand lost his driving privileges because of a conviction for driving under the influence and was subsequently arrested while driving a vehicle in a Walmart parking lot.
The issue for the defendant was whether or not the Walmart parking lot is a “ public highway ” or not; however, the Court effectively avoided that question by focusing on which statute applied to the case instead. According to the decision handed down by the Nebraska Supreme Court the parking lot does not have to qualify as a “public highway” for the defendant to be found guilty because the statute applies to “privately owned parking lots open to the public” as well as to public highways.
The defendant, Benjamin Frederick, was arrested back in December of 2012 and charged with driving while his license was revoked. Frederick’s driving privileges were revoked until July of 2013 as a result of a conviction for driving under the influence, or DUI. The defendant argued that Nebraska Code Section 60-4,186 prohibits driving a vehicle on a “public highway” with a revoked license; however, the Walmart parking lot was not a public highway and, therefore, he was not guilty of the offense with which he was charged. Frederick was actually charged under Nebraska Code Section 60-4, 108 which reads as follows:
Ultimately, the court did not need to declare the Walmart parking lot to be a public highway in order to affirm Fredericks’s conviction. Justice Michael McCormack, writing for the High Court, explained the Court’s decision by saying: