The Georgia Supreme Court  reversed the motor vehicle theft conviction of a Whitfield County man sentenced to 10 years in prison for stealing a lawn mower. The issue in the case was whether a riding lawn mower should be considered a “motor vehicle” under the motor vehicle theft law.

On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals concluded a riding lawn mower should be considered a motor vehicle — but in a 4-3 decision the high court ruled the appellate court was wrong and sent the case back for resentencing.

The case stems from the 2006 arrest of Franklin Lloyd Harris, who was charged with stealing a Toro riding lawn mower from the Home Depot store in Dalton. According to evidence at trial, he and two others pulled his father’s red Ford Aerostar van to the front of the store, loaded the lawn mower into the back and drove away.

Harris was charged with two felonies: motor vehicle theft and theft by taking, because the mower was valued at more than $500.

During the trial, Harris’ public defender moved to have the first count thrown out on the ground that stealing a lawn mower is not considered motor vehicle theft under state law, and Harris should not be punished as if he’d stolen a car. The trial court denied his motion, a jury found Harris guilty, and because he was a repeat offender, he was sentenced under the motor vehicle theft law to 10 years in prison.

On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the conviction and sentence, ruling that a riding lawn mower is a “motor vehicle” under state law.

Although Harris’s conviction for motor vehicle theft was reversed, he was also convicted of theft by taking, and faces as many as 10 years on that charge.

In a dissent, Justice Harold Melton stated, “the legislature has specifically defined the term ‘motor vehicle’ broadly enough to encompass a riding lawn mower.”