may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
State of Minnesota,
Dale Allen Sweno,
Filed June 22, 1999
Ramsey County District Court
File No.: K7-98-1967
Clayton M. Robinson, Jr., St. Paul City Attorney, Daniel R. Vlieger, Assistant City Attorney, 15 West Kellogg Blvd., Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55102 (for respondent)
Douglas W. Thomson, Lisa Lodin Peralta, Suite W-1260, 332 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Schumacher, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge, and Foley, Judge.[*]
A police officer saw appellant Dale A. Sweno commit traffic violations. Before the officer could make a personal demand that Sweno show proof of insurance on the vehicle, Sweno fled. The trial court ruled that the complaint charging no proof of insurance was a sufficient demand under law. Sweno contends that the charge is not proper unless an officer has made a personal demand that a driver show proof of insurance. We disagree and affirm.
At 10 p.m. on February 17, 1998, St. Paul patrol officer Sheila Hoff saw the driver of a white 1987 Chevrolet truck commit traffic violations. Intending to stop the truck, Hoff followed it to a bar in downtown St. Paul. The driver parked in a no-parking zone outside the bar, got out of the truck, and began to walk away. Hoff drove her squad next to the truck and ordered the driver to stop and to come to the squad. The driver ignored her and went into the bar. Hoff parked her squad and entered the bar to look for the driver. She could not find him. Because the driver had parked his truck illegally, Hoff had it towed to the police impound lot.
Hoff determined that Dale A. Sweno was the registered owner of the truck. She checked police arrest records and found a booking photograph of Dale A. Sweno. She recognized him as the driver of the truck. Because Sweno had left the scene, Hoff was unable to issue a traffic citation. Instead, she referred the case to the police department's traffic and accident division.
On March 3, 1998, Lieutenant Michael Morehead of that division sent to Sweno a notice that the police had impounded his truck. The notice required that Sweno claim the truck within 15 days and prove that it was insured. Sweno's attorney wrote to Morehead on March 10, 1998, questioning the impoundment and demanding the release of the truck. Morehead replied that Sweno would have to show proof of insurance before the police would release the truck. Morehead heard nothing further from the attorney or Sweno.
The city charged Sweno by complaint with gross misdemeanor no proof of insurance and various other offenses. After a bench trial on the no proof of insurance charge, the court found Sweno guilty, concluding that, even though the police had not made a personal demand on Sweno to prove that his truck was insured, the complaint itself satisfied the demand requirements of law. Sweno challenges this conclusion on appeal.
Minn. Stat § 169.791, subd. 2 (1998), requires every driver "on demand of a peace officer" to show proof of current insurance covering the vehicle the driver is operating. A driver's failure to do so is a crime. If a driver who is also the owner of the vehicle does not show proof of insurance "on demand," he still has two opportunities to prove that the vehicle was insured and thereby avoid criminal sanctions. First, if the demanding officer issues a citation, the driver may provide proof of insurance to the court administrator "no later than the date and time specified in the citation for the driver's first court appearance * * *." Minn. Stat. § 169.791, subd. 2a (1998). Second,
[if] the charge is made other than by citation, no person shall be convicted of violating this section if the person presents the required proof of insurance at the person's first court appearance after the charge is made.
Id. It is undisputed that Sweno never at any time showed proof that his truck was insured while he was driving it on February 17, 1998.
Sweno argues that a peace officer's demand is a condition precedent to a charge of no proof of insurance. And because the court found that no peace officer made a demand on Sweno personally, the condition precedent has not been satisfied, and the conviction must be vacated.
Although subdivision 2a refers to a demand when the driver is charged by citation, there is no reference to a demand when the "charge is made other than by citation." Id. This omission leads us to conclude that the legislature intended to provide for situations in which the demand cannot be made, or for good reason is not made, during a personal interaction between the driver and the officer. For example, the driver might flee the scene, as Sweno did. Or, there might be an accident and the driver is unconscious. Or, further investigation might be necessary to determine the driver's and the owner's identities. In each of these situations, the driver might be charged by complaint rather than citation. The complaint itself, supported by the officer's factual basis, serves as the demand contemplated by the statute.
It is presumed that the legislature in enacting a law does not intend an absurd or unreasonable result. See Minn. Stat. § 645.17(1) (1998); Olson v. Ford Motor Co., 558 N.W.2d 491, 494 (Minn. 1997). Sweno's interpretation of Minn. Stat. § 169.791, subd. 2, leads to the conclusion that a driver need only flee the scene to defeat the requirement that he prove that his vehicle was insured. That is an unreasonable result.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.