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,
Sandy Kay Schneider,
Filed August 17, 1999
Clay County District Court
File No. T2-98-2364
Heidi M. Fisher, Moorhead City Prosecutor, P.O. Box 817, Moorhead, MN 56561-0817 (for respondent)
Peter E. Karlsson, P.O. Box 1035, Moorhead, MN 56561-1035 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Schultz, Judge.[*]
In a sufficiency of the evidence appeal, appellant challenges her conviction for leaving the scene of an accident. We conclude the statute in question is sufficiently definite and the district court's findings are supported by the evidence. We affirm.
During the course of the police investigation, an officer spoke with appellant. Appellant admitted to colliding with the hydrant, but denied damaging it. Appellant said that after the collision, she inspected both the hydrant and her car and did not find apparent damage to either. Appellant surmised to the officer that the damage to the hydrant may have been "caused by children." The police officer examined red paint transfer and scratches on the front bumper of appellant's car and found them similar to damage to the hydrant. When the officer ran a check on appellant's license, he learned that appellant's driving privileges had been suspended and that she did not have insurance. The officer then cited appellant with leaving the scene of an accident in violation of Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 5 (1996), Driving After Suspension in violation of Minn. Stat. § 171.24, subd. 1 (1996), and for no insurance of vehicle in violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 169.797, subd. 2 (1996), 169.797, subd. 3 (Supp. 1997).
Prior to trial, appellant pleaded guilty to the no-insurance charge. At a bench trial, appellant again admitted to colliding with the hydrant, but denied causing it damage. With reference to appellant's rationalization that children may have damaged the hydrant, a city employee discounted such a possibility. He pointed out that the hydrant head alone had weighed at least 500 pounds. He explained that while a group of children might be able to push the hydrant over on its side, only the force of a vehicle collision could have sheared it off from the water main shaft.
The court found that appellant was driving her car at the time of the collision with the hydrant and that collision caused the damage. Because appellant admitted to driving her car, the court ruled that she was guilty of Driving after Suspension. Because appellant failed to report the accident, the court ruled that she was guilty of leaving the scene of an accident. Appellant received a $210 fine, 90 days in jail, and was ordered to pay restitution of $1,672.55 for the hydrant's repair costs. The fine and jail time were stayed for one year.
a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the conviction, was sufficient to permit the jurors to reach the verdict which they did.
State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989) (citation omitted).
The district court ruled that appellant violated Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 5 (1998), which provides as follows:
The driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting only in damage to fixtures legally upon or adjacent to a highway shall take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of such property of such fact and of the driver's name and address and of the registration number of the vehicle being driven and shall, upon request and if available, exhibit the driver's or chauffeur's license, and make report of such accident in every case. The report shall be made in the same manner as a report made pursuant to subdivision 7.
Appellant's argument is simple. She states, first, that this criminal statute requires the report to be made "in the same manner as a report made pursuant to subdivision 7." Subdivision 7 states in part:
The driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in bodily injury to or death of any person or total property damage to an apparent extent of $1,000 or more, shall forward a written report of the accident to the commissioner of public safety within ten days thereof. On the required report, the driver shall provide the commissioner with the name and policy number of the insurer providing vehicle liability coverage at the time of the accident.
Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 7 (1998).
Subdivision 7 gives drivers ten days to report to the commissioner. Here, appellant was charged with violating Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 5 before ten days were up. Thus, secondly, she argues that since she was charged criminally before ten days had gone by, this constitutes a complete defense. In effect, appellant argues that there is a ten-day "grace period" to the criminal notice requirement of subdivision 5.
We reject appellant's argument for several reasons. First of all, statutes have to be construed to make sense. In ascertaining legislative intent, it is presumed that the legislature does not intend an absurd result. Minn. Stat. § 645.17(1) (1998). If you read ten days into subdivision 5, that would mean no obligation on a driver, even one smashing a fire hydrant or a natural gas lift station, or a gasoline pump at a gas station, to do anything or notify anyone for a full ten days. If the driver were the only person aware of the damage, that would leave a full ten days for flooding, explosions, destructive fires, etc. We cannot read that into the statute. Rather, we accept the state's argument that subdivision 5 speaks to two separate requirements. The first part requires a driver to take reasonable steps to locate and notify a person in charge of damaged fixtures. This is the criminal portion of subdivision 5 that is often generically called "hit and run." This is the portion of subdivision 5 that appellant was found guilty of; i.e., she did not "take reasonable steps to locate and notify the owner or person in charge of such property." On the other hand, the second portion of subdivision 5, the requirement to "make report of such accident in every case" (this portion of subdivision 5 is preceded by the conjunctive and), "pursuant to subdivision 7" is a bookkeeping requirement wherein the Department of Public Safety demands that motorists, whether at fault or not, report certain pertinent details spelled out in the statute. Because motorists are forced to do this, in effect incriminate themselves, the subdivision 7 reports to the Commissioner of Public Safety specifically are exempted from admissibility at trials. Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 13(a), (b) (1998), states in pertinent part:
(a) All written reports and supplemental reports required under this section shall be for the use of the commissioner of public safety and other appropriate state, federal, county, and municipal governmental agencies for accident analysis purposes * * *.
(b) Accident reports and data contained in the reports shall not be discoverable under any provision of law or rule of court. No report shall be used as evidence in any trial, civil or criminal, arising out of an accident.
The reporting requirement, pursuant to subdivision 7, has to be different from the obligation to report under subdivision 5 because the subdivision 7 reporting requirement in cases involving property damage only does not require any report if the property damage appears to be $1,000 or less. Appellant's argument that subdivision 7 is an integral part of subdivision 5 and, thus, there has to be a ten-day grace period to report, means that she is arguing that you never have to report any accident if it involves property damage only, and is under $1,000. Again, we cannot suggest that the legislature meant this absurd result. If you are a hit-and-run driver, it would be void ab initio, as against public policy, to read into the law that a hit-and-run driver can "hit and run" as long as they are careful to do less than $1,000 worth of damage.
We reject appellant's second challenge to her conviction on the grounds that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was property damage in excess of $1,000. The state does not have to prove any dollar amount of property damage to charge under subdivision 5. On the other hand, if it is just property damage and less than $1,000, at least to reasonable appearances, a driver would be exempt from the second reporting requirement, the subdivision 7 report to the Commissioner of Public Safety.
On sufficiency of the evidence, we conclude the record supports the district court. In convicting, the court relied on both direct and circumstantial evidence. In viewing the evidence, this court assumes the factfinder believed the state's witnesses and disbelieved any contradictory evidence. State v. Merrill, 274 N.W.2d 99, 111 (Minn. 1978). While a conviction based upon circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny, such evidence is entitled to the same weight as any other evidence, so long as the circumstances proved are consistent with guilt and inconsistent with any other rational hypothesis. State v. Walen, 563 N.W.2d 742, 750 (Minn. 1997).
In a prior case, this court relied on similar evidence of scratch marks on a defendant's car bumper matching those on a damaged car's bumper to affirm a leaving the scene of an accident violation under Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 2 (1984). State v. Erickson, 396 N.W.2d 709, 710 (Minn. App. 1986). As a matter of law, the Erickson court reviewed the factfinder's decision for sufficiency of the evidence by analyzing whether "any reasonable person would conclude that an accident occurred." Id. at 711. Such review included evidence that the defendant had admitted to leaving the scene of the accident, but denied causing damage. Like the Erickson court, sufficient evidence here justifies the district court's conclusion.
Appellant attempts to shift the blame and deny culpability. We can only note that a factfinder evaluates witness credibility and neither needs to defer nor give credit to a criminal defendant's exculpatory testimony. See Hough, 585 N.W.2d at 396 (stating factfinder evaluates witness credibility and need not credit exculpatory testimony); see also State v. Lahue, 585 N.W.2d 785, 789 (Minn. 1998) (explaining supreme court "will not overturn a conviction based on circumstantial evidence on the basis of mere conjecture." (citation omitted)). Appellant's defense and exculpatory statements are challenged by her own testimony that she struck the fire hydrant with her car; the scratch marks on her car correspond to a collision with the fire hydrant; and the testimony of the city employee testifying to the great weight of the hydrant and the force needed, such as the impact of a motor vehicle, to sheer the head from the shaft and water main. Further, the district court could reasonably have inferred motive for appellant to leave the scene and not report from her lack of insurance and her lack of a valid driver's license.
Appellant's conviction was based on the fact that she failed to notify the owner of the fire hydrant, the City of Moorhead, about the damage within a reasonable time. Section 169.09, subd. 5 is sufficiently definite. We will not read into the statute a legislative intent to exempt drivers of hit-and run-vehicles from all liability to notify anyone if they do less than $1,000 worth of property damage. We will not read into the statute a legislative intent to allow drivers of motor vehicles to keep silent for ten days about damage they have caused, including damage that could be extensive and life threatening, e.g., flooding, massive leaking from water lines, gas lines, fuel lines, etc.
The record supports the district court's findings of fact and its conclusion of law that appellant violated Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 5.
[*] Retired judge of the district court, serving as judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.