This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).






State of Minnesota and

Lake Minnetonka Conservation District,


William A. Cooper, et al.,


Filed October 12, 2004

Reversed; motion granted

Wright, Judge


Hennepin County District Court

File Nos. 03045571, 03049087


George O. Ludcke, Daniel C. Bryden; Kelly & Berens, P.A., 3720 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for appellants)


Steven M. Tallen, Tallen & Baertschi, 4640 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth Street, Minneapolis, MN  55402 (for respondent)


          Considered and decided by Wright, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N


Appellants challenge their convictions for speeding on snowmobiles in the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District (LMCD), arguing that their mistake of law, based on an official statement by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), is a defense.  Respondent moves to strike the revised snowmobile regulations summary from appellants’ appendix.  We reverse and grant the motion.



            On the afternoon of February 15, 2003, appellants William Allen Cooper and Thomas Francis Jasper were operating snowmobiles by the shoreline of Seton Lake.  Two special deputies, patrolling on behalf of respondent LMCD, used radar to clock each of the appellants’ speed at approximately 48 miles per hour.  Although the speed limit was not posted, the special deputies stopped appellants and issued citations for speeding.

Appellants were later charged by complaint with violations of Lake Minnetonka Conservation District Code § 3.11, subd. 4 (rev. 1999), for operating a motorized vehicle over 15 miles per hour within 150 feet of the lake shoreline; § 3.11, subd. 5 (rev. 1999), for operating a motorized vehicle over 40 miles per hour on the lake during daylight hours; and § 3.12, subd. 3 (rev. 1999), for operating a snowmobile over 40 miles per hour within 1,000 feet of the lake shoreline.  Appellants moved to dismiss, asserting constitutional and jurisdictional defects.  The district court denied appellants’ motion and found them guilty of the latter two charges.  This appeal followed.



            Appellants argue that the district court erred by rejecting their mistake-of-law defense.  They contend that, because they were acting in accordance with an official statement of the law contained in a DNR pamphlet, due process bars prosecution of their conduct.  Because the district court rejected the application of this defense as a matter of law, we review this question de novo.  See State v. Grunig, 660 N.W.2d 134, 136 (Minn. 2003).

            In criminal prosecutions, a mistake of law, based on the actor’s misapprehension or ignorance of the applicable law, ordinarily is not a defense.  State v. King, 257 N.W.2d 693, 697-98 (Minn. 1977).  This principle is based on the longstanding common law maxim that all persons are presumed to know the law.  Id.  Modern authorities acknowledge that, given the breadth and complexity of criminal law today, such a presumption is a legal fiction.  Nevertheless, the prosecutorial function and any deterrent effect to be achieved through crime detection must allow prosecutions to proceed regardless of whether a defendant claims ignorance that the conduct at issue is prohibited.  See generally 1 Wayne R. LaFave, Substantive Criminal Law § 5.6(d) (2d ed. 2003); 1 Charles E. Torcia, Wharton’s Criminal Law § 79 (15th ed. 1993).

            Notwithstanding common law doctrine, constitutional guarantees of due process allow a mistake-of-law defense to be asserted under certain circumstances.  If a government authority makes an official statement that specific conduct is lawful, and an actor undertakes that conduct in reliance on the statement, then due process bars prosecution for the conduct.  Raley v. Ohio, 360 U.S. 423, 437-39, 79 S. Ct. 1257, 1266-67 (1959); State v. McKown, 475 N.W.2d 63, 68 (Minn. 1991).  Thus, prosecution is barred when action is taken in accordance with a direction by police, Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 570-72, 85 S. Ct. 476, 484 (1965), or in accordance with regulations issued by a government agency, United States v. Pa. Indus. Chem. Corp., 411 U.S. 655, 674, 93 S. Ct. 1804, 1816-17 (1973).

            Here, appellants relied on a pamphlet received during the snowmobile licensing process, in which the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) summarizes its snowmobile regulations.  The DNR pamphlet provides that the maximum legal speed for snowmobile operation is 50 miles per hour during the day and 40 miles per hour at night.  It also warns that a snowmobile may not be operated in excess of “posted speed limits” or “[a]t a speed greater than various trail, terrain and visibility conditions dictate.”  But the pamphlet does not indicate that, when posted warnings are absent, reduced speed limits may be in effect.  See Department of Natural Resources, 2002-03 Minnesota Snowmobile Regulations 5-6, 11, 18.

            Minnesota courts have not considered whether a government publication, like the one produced by the DNR here, may be treated as an official statement of lawful conduct.  But an actor may assert the defense when reliance on an administrative agency’s official statement is foreseeable.  Pa. Indus., 411 U.S. at 674, 93 S. Ct. at 1816-17.  The Model Penal Code defines “official statement” to include “an official interpretation of the public officer or body charged by law with responsibility for the interpretation, administration or enforcement of the law defining the offense.”  Model Penal Code § 2.04(3)(b)(iv) (1985).  It is evident from the fact of the pamphlet itself that the DNR has an active role in interpreting, administering, and enforcing snowmobile laws.

            Based on the DNR pamphlet, a snowmobile operator would have no reason to expect that reduced speed limits may not be posted.  Indeed, the DNR publication implied that, absent adverse conditions, it was legal to operate a snowmobile at speeds up to 50 miles per hour during the day.  Because appellants relied on and acted in accordance with the DNR’s statement of the law, due process bars prosecution for their conduct.  In light of our ruling, we need not reach appellants’ other arguments.

            The LMCD moves to strike the DNR’s revised snowmobile regulations summary from appellants’ appendix.  The DNR prepared this pamphlet after the events at issue in this matter, and thus it could not have been introduced in the district court.  In any case, this pamphlet has no effect on our analysis here.

The record on appeal consists solely of “[t]he papers filed in the trial court, the exhibits, and the transcript of the proceedings, if any.”  Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 110.01.  Because we ordinarily are precluded from considering documents that are not filed in the district court, we grant the LMCD’s motion to strike.  See State by Humphrey v. Delano Cmty. Dev. Corp., 556 N.W.2d 922, 924-25 (Minn. App. 1996), aff’d, 571 N.W.2d 233 (Minn. 1997).  

            Reversed; motion granted.