Appeals Court (November 9, 2007)

"Public way" is not an element of the crime of use of a motor vehicle without authority.

During the course of a dispute that took place in a golf course parking lot between a group of teenagers, the juvenile jumped into the driver's seat of another's vehicle, drove across the parking lot, crashed through a chain link fence and onto the driving range eventually colliding with a utility pole. After a jury waived trial, the juvenile was found delinquent, among other things, of use of a motor vehicle without authority. The juvenile appealed, arguing that the Commonwealth was required to prove the juvenile drove on a public way and a driving range is not a public way therefore, the delinquency finding was invalid.

G.L. c. 90, §24 (2) (a) reads as follows:

"Whoever upon any way or in any place to which the public has a right of access, or any place to which members of the public have access as invitees or licensees, operates a motor vehicle recklessly, or operates such a vehicle negligently…; and whoever uses a motor vehicle without authority knowing that such use is unauthorized shall, for the first offense be punished by…"

Relying on a plain language reading of the statute, and the placement of the semicolon, the appeals court ruled that "public way" is not an element of the crime of use without authority. Therefore, the "public way" language found in the first portion of the section, which ends in a semicolon, does not modify the crime of use without authority found in the next, independent clause of the section.