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State v. David Chittim
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT					Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	2001 ME 125
Docket:	Yor-01-8	
Submitted
on briefs:	May 25, 2001	
Decided:	July 26, 2001	

Panel:WATHEN, C.J., and CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, SAUFLEY, ALEXANDER, and
CALKINS, JJ.
STATE OF MAINE v. DAVID B. CHITTIM
CLIFFORD, J.

	[¶1]  David B. Chittim appeals from the judgment entered in the
Superior Court (York County, Brennan, J.) affirming a judgment in the
District Court (Springvale, Janelle, J.) against him for violating 29-A M.R.S.A.
§ 2104(4) (Supp. 2000), a traffic infraction.  We agree with Chittim's
contention that the court erred in interpreting the statute and that the
application of the statute to his actions is inappropriately retroactive. 
Accordingly, we vacate the judgment.
	[¶2]  The facts are not in dispute.  In December of 1999, Chittim's
son was stopped for speeding and subsequently charged with operating after
suspension.  Chittim was a passenger in the vehicle, which was registered in
the name of his wife.  The trooper noticed that the license plates on the
vehicle had been altered by affixed stickers that replaced "Vacationland" on
the rear plate with "Taxationland" and on the front plate with "The
Crawdad State."{1}  The stickers obscured "Vacationland" but not the
numbers on the plate.  The officer cited Chittim for violating 29-A M.R.S.A.
§ 2104.{2}    
	[¶3]  The State does not dispute that Chittim put the stickers on the
plates in 1993 or earlier, at least six years prior to the summons and three
years prior to July 1, 1996, the effective date of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2104. 
Chittim subsequently transferred the plates to his wife after the statute was
enacted.  The District Court entered a judgment against Chittim for a
violation of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2104(4).  Chittim appealed to the Superior
Court.  The Superior Court affirmed the District Court.  Chittim brought this
appeal pursuant to M.R. App. P. 2(a) and 14 M.R.S.A. § 1851 (1980). 
	[¶4]  Because the Superior Court acted in an appellate capacity, we
review the decision of the District Court directly to determine whether
Chittim's conduct violated 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2104.  State v. White, 2001 ME
65, ¶ 4, 769 A.2d 827, 828.
	[¶5]  The interpretation of a statute is a question of law.  White,
2001 ME 65, ¶ 4, 769 A.2d at 828.  The language of Title 29-A, sections
103 and 2104, provides that a violation of section 2104 constitutes a traffic
infraction subjecting the violator to the imposition of a fine.  Accordingly,
the statute is penal, and we construe penal statutes strictly.  State v. Tarmey,
2000 ME 23, ¶ 9, 755 A.2d 482, 484 (reasoning strict penal statute analysis
to prevent creation of criminal offense by inference or implication); Burne v.
John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 403 A.2d 775, 777 (Me. 1979) (finding
statute creating interest on overdue insurance claim as penal and reviewing
under strict construction analysis); State v. Millett, 392 A.2d 521, 525
(Me. 1978) (noting fundamental principle to strictly construe penal
statutes).  
	[¶6]  The language of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2104 does not and could not
provide that attaching a sticker to a plate or displaying a defaced
registration plate prior to the enactment of the statute is a violation of its
provisions.  See U.S. Const. art. I, §§ 9, cl. 3 & 10, cl. 1 (prohibiting
Congress and the states from passing ex post facto laws); Me. Const. art. I,
§ 11 (prohibiting ex post facto legislation).  In construing a statute, we
determine and give effect to the legislative intent first from the plain
meaning of the statutory language and in the context of the whole statutory
scheme.  Reagan v. Racal Mortgage, Inc., 1998 ME 188, ¶ 7, 715 A.2d 925,
927; Salenius v. Salenius, 654 A.2d 426, 429 (Me. 1995).  A statute must be
construed in light of the subject matter, the purpose of the statute and the
consequences of a particular interpretation.  Reagan, 1998 ME 188, ¶ 8,
715 A.2d at 928.  We will construe a statute to avoid an absurd, illogical, or
inconsistent result.  Id. ¶ 7, 715 A.2d at 927; Millett, 392 A.2d at 525
(noting that penal statute strict construction principle subordinate to
reasonable and sensible interpretation).
	[¶7] The plain language of § 2104 makes it a violation to "add or
attach[]" a decal, symbol, slogan, or letter to a registration plate.  Chittim,
however, has no affirmative duty to remove the stickers from property that
is no longer owned by him or in his possession.  See Clark v. State
Employees Appeals Bd., 363 A.2d 735, 738 (Me. 1976) (disfavoring
construction that leads to public mischief or results inimical to public
interest).  Chittim attached the stickers onto the plates sometime in 1993. 
Subsection 4 of 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2104 went into effect on July 1, 1996.  The
statutory language does not make Chittim's actions prior to July 1, 1996, a
violation of the statute.  See Salenius, 654 A.2d at 429.  Nor does the statute
prohibit the transfer of the plates.  The statute does not cover Chittim's
conduct here.
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated and remanded to the 
Superior Court for remand to the District Court
for entry of a judgment for the defendant.


Attorneys for State: G. Steven Rowe, Attorney General Joseph A. Wannamacher, Asst. Attorney General 6 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333-0006 Michael P. Cantara, Disrict Attorney P O Box 399 Alfred, ME 04002 Attorney for defendant: Kevin T. Cole, Esq. Lundgren & Cole 33 Fessenden Street Portland, ME 04103
FOOTNOTES******************************** {1} . Registration plates issued for private use vehicles must include "'Vacationland' . . . centered at the bottom in letters not less than 3/4 inch in height . . . ." 29-A M.R.S.A. § 451 (4)(C), (4-A)(C) (1996 & Supp. 2000). {2} . Title 29-A M.R.S.A. section 2104 provides that "a person commits a traffic infraction if that person adds or attaches to a registration plate a decal, symbol, slogan, mark, letter or number not authorized by law or by the Secretary of State." 29-A M.R.S.A. § 2104(4) (Supp. 2000). "The exclusive penalty for a traffic infraction is a fine of not less than $25 nor more than $500, unless specifically authorized, or suspension of a license, or both." 29-A M.R.S.A. § 103 (Supp. 2000).