This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Craig Allen Dahl,
Filed November 27, 2001
Beltrami County District Court
File No. K9001925
Eric P. Schieferdecker, Assistant Beltrami County Attorney, Suite 40, 619 Beltrami Avenue N.W., Bemidji, MN 56601-3071 (for appellant)
John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, Roy G. Spurbeck, Assistant Public Defender, Suite 600, 2829 University Ave. Southeast, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Forsberg, Judge.[*]
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Craig Dahl pleaded guilty to using an artificial light to locate a wild animal. The district court conducted a post-trial, contested hearing on the seizure of Dahl's bow. The court found that Dahl had not been convicted of an unlawful “taking” of wildlife that would authorize confiscation of the bow and ordered its return. On the narrow facts of this case, we affirm.
In a cooperative enforcement effort between the Leech Lake Conservation Department and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, conservation officers placed a remote-controlled deer decoy in Beltrami County near the intersection of two roads. As they monitored the intersection, the officers saw a car using its headlights to illuminate the decoy and then saw the front-seat passenger get out of the car and take a bow from the back seat. The officers approached the passenger, later identified as Dahl, and Dahl handed them his bow-hunting license. According to the officers, Dahl stated he had shot two arrows at the decoy, missing with the first and hitting with the second, and said, “[Y]ou caught me poaching.” The officers seized Dahl's bow.
Dahl pleaded guilty to the charge of “using an artificial light to locate an animal” while possessing a bow. At the plea hearing, the court asked whether there was any need for a factual basis other than what was set forth in the complaint. The prosecutor did not respond; defense counsel responded that the complaint would be fine.
A month after entry of his guilty plea, Dahl brought a motion for return of his bow. Counsel submitted the case on argument and the underlying record. Relying on the text of the statute, the court concluded that the bow was subject to seizure only if it was used to “unlawfully take” a wild animal. Because the court found that Dahl was convicted for "deer shining" and not for "taking wildlife," the court ordered the return of the bow. The state appeals from this post-trial order.
Dahl was charged with violating section 97B.081, subdivision 1(a), which prohibits “cast[ing] the rays of a spotlight, headlight, or other artificial light * * * to spot, locate, or take a wild animal” while possessing a bow, firearm, or "other implement that could be used to kill big game." Minn. Stat. § 97B.081, subd. 1(a) (2000). Thus, the statute is violated when a person, while possessing a bow or firearm, casts an artificial light to "spot" a wild animal, "locate" a wild animal, or "take" a wild animal.
Although the state acknowledges that each listed act—spotting, locating, and taking—provides a separate basis for a conviction, it contends that the complaint establishes that Dahl committed all three acts and thus was convicted for "taking" wildlife. The state further contends that because 97B.081 is entitled "using artificial lights to locate animals," the use of the single verb "locate" in the plea did not limit Dahl's admission of guilt to only one act. At oral argument, Dahl's attorney acknowledged that the statute's caption encompassed all three actions.
The district court, however, interpreted the plea more narrowly. The court stated, "the inescapable fact remains that the defendant was not convicted of taking wildlife or artificial wildlife and as such, is entitled to return of his bow and arrow." The facts of this case support the district court's finding. At the plea hearing, Dahl orally entered a guilty plea to the charge of "using an artificial light to locate an animal." The only question he was asked was whether he had possession of the bow at that time. He stated that he did.
Dahl's plea was not supported by any specific factual basis other than the reference to the complaint. Dahl did not adopt or verify any statement in the complaint nor was he asked to admit to any specific behavior or actions. On this record the court could reasonably interpret Dahl's guilty plea to admit only those facts necessary to support a plea to using an artificial light to locate an animal. Consequently, the court's finding that Dahl was convicted only of shining or locating an animal and not of taking or attempting to take an animal is neither an error of fact nor an error of law. See State v. Wiernasz, 584 N.W.2d 1, 3 (Minn. 1998) (mixed question of fact and law requires court to apply controlling legal standard to historical facts determined by district court).
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.