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State v. Spaulding
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MAINE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT				Reporter of Decisions
Decision:	1998 ME   29 
Docket:	Ken-97-190
Submitted	
On Briefs:	October 23, 1997
Decided:	February 11, 1998

Panel:		WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, CLIFFORD, RUDMAN, DANA, LIPEZ, and
		SAUFLEY, JJ.
Majority:	WATHEN, C.J., and ROBERTS, RUDMAN, DANA, and SAUFLEY, JJ.
Dissent:	CLIFFORD and LIPEZ, JJ.

STATE OF MAINE v. DONNA M. SPAULDING
RUDMAN, J.

	[¶1]  Donna M. Spaulding appeals from the judgment entered in the
Superior Court (Kennebec County, Calkins, J.) affirming her conviction in
the District Court (Augusta, Perry, J.) for tampering with public records in
violation of 17-A M.R.S.A. § 456(1)(A) (1983).  Spaulding contends that her
conduct, as a matter of law, was not a violation of 17-A M.R.S.A. § 456(1)(A). 
We agree and vacate the judgment.
	[¶2]  In order to be employed as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in
Maine, an individual's name must be listed on the CNA Registry maintained
by the Department of Human Resources.  On her application for listing on
the CNA Registry, Donna Spaulding placed a checkmark beside the word
"no" in response to the question, "Have you ever been convicted of a
crime?".  At the time Spaulding completed her CNA Registry application she
had two prior criminal convictions:  a 1994 conviction for unemployment
fraud, 26 M.R.S.A. § 1051(1) (1992); and a 1986 conviction for false
representation to an overseer, 22 M.R.S.A. § 4491 (1992). 
	[¶3]  Spaulding was charged with tampering with public records or
information, 17-A M.R.S.A. § 456(1)(A), Class D.  The District Court found
Spaulding guilty and ordered Spaulding to pay a $400 fine.  The Superior
Court affirmed her conviction.  This appeal followed.
	[¶4]  When the Superior Court acts as an intermediate appellate court,
we review directly the decision of the District Court.  Melanson v. Belyea,
1997 ME 150, ¶ 4, 698 A.2d 492, 493.  We review the trial court's
interpretation of a statute for errors of law.  Id.        
	[¶5]  Section 456(1)(A) of Title 17-A, Chapter 19, provides:

1. A person is guilty of tampering with public records or
information if he:      

A. Knowingly makes a false entry in, or false
alteration of any record, document or thing
belonging to, or received or kept by the government,
or required by law to be kept by others for the
information of the government; . . . .
                         
Also within Maine's criminal code, Chapter 19 (Falsification in Official
Matters) is section 453, "Unsworn falsification."  Pursuant to this section, a
person is guilty of unsworn falsification if:

A. 	He makes a written false statement which he does not
believe to be true, on or pursuant to, a form conspicuously
bearing notification authorized by statute or regulation to the
effect that false statements made therein are punishable; 
                                                                                                                                           
B. 	With the intent to deceive a public servant in the
performance of his official duties, he

(1) makes any written false statement which he does
not believe to be true, provided, however, that this
subsection does not apply in the case of a written
false statement made to a law enforcement officer by
a person then in official custody and suspected of
having committed a crime, except as provided in
paragraph C;  or
 
(2) knowingly creates, or attempts to create, a false
impression in a written application for any pecuniary
or other benefit by omitting information necessary to
prevent statements therein from being misleading 
		. . .      
 
17-A M.R.S.A. § 453 (1983).{1}

	[¶6]  The issue in this case is whether Spaulding's conduct --
misreporting a material fact on a government form -- constitutes tampering
with a public record pursuant to section 456(1)(A).  Spaulding argues that
section 456 was not intended to criminalize the making of a false statement
on a form then submitted to a public official.  Spaulding contends that
section 453 is the statutory provision intended by the legislature to address
the making of false statements in forms submitted to public officials. 
Spaulding notes that section 453 criminalizes the falsification of forms then
submitted to the government only when such falsification is intentional or
when the form conspicuously bears on its face that false statements made
therein are punishable.  Criminalizing her conduct pursuant to section 456,
argues Spaulding, unlawfully avoids the specific elements the legislature
deemed necessary for criminal liability to attach for the same conduct
pursuant to section 453.  We agree.
	[¶7]  When interpreting a statute, we examine the plain meaning of
the statutory language in order to give effect to the legislative intent,
avoiding absurd, illogical, or inconsistent results.  See Jordan v. Sears,
Roebuck & Co., 651 A.2d 358, 360 (Me. 1994).  The plain wording of
section 456 supports Spaulding's argument that her conduct does not
constitute "tampering with public records" pursuant to section 456.  For
Spaulding's conduct to be criminal pursuant to section 456, "Tampering
with public records or information," the definition of "tamper" would have
to diverge from its plain meaning.{2}  The defining element of "tamper" is the
alteration or change of an existing document.  Spaulding did not alter or
change information on a document; she incorrectly represented that she
had no prior criminal convictions on her CNA Registry application.  The
language of section 456 addresses documents "received or kept by the
government," not those that will be received or kept by the government.  If
we accept the State's construction of section 456, then we would effectively
be holding that, pursuant to section 456, one could tamper with a blank
piece of paper by writing a falsehood upon it and sending it to the
government.  See Finks v. Maine State Highway Comm'n, 328 A.2d 791, 798
(Me. 1974) ("Absent a legislative definition . . . [a term] must be given a
meaning consistent with the overall statutory context, and be construed in
the light of the subject matter, the purpose of the statute, the occasion and
necessity for the law, and the consequences of a particular interpretation.")
(emphasis added) (citations omitted).   
	[¶8]  While the legislative history of section 456, as evidence of
legislative intent, is not extensive, it does support our interpretation.  The
comment for section 456 states that the section "is taken from the
Proposed Criminal Code of Massachusetts, chapter 268, section 7."  17-A
M.R.S.A. § 456 comment (1975).  The Massachusetts Revision Commission
Note for section 7, tampering with public records or documents reads:

The protection given by § 7 to public records, documents and
things kept by or for the information of the government is
almost entirely absent under present statutes, unless there is a
malicious injury to legal notices or other personal property . . .
The Commission believed such protection was needed, but each
paragraph requires knowledge of falsity or of lack of authority,
and paragraphs (b) and (c) require also intention to pass as
genuine, or to destroy, the protected records, documents and
things.  Thus persons -- often public servants -- who
inadvertently misuse them would not be liable . . . .

Proposed Criminal Code of Massachusetts, C. 268, § 7 note (1972)
(emphasis added).

	[¶9]  This note illustrates the point that section 7 was drafted to afford
"protection" to government records -- documents that have already been
received by the government -- and not to documents destined to be received
by the government.  This point is supported by the enunciated legislative
intent of section 7 to avoid the imposition of liability upon public servants
who might inadvertently mishandle public records, a legislative intent
echoed in the comment to section 456 itself: "[i]t is drafted, however, so as
not to include inadvertent mishandling of material."  17-A M.R.S.A. § 456
comment (1975).  These legislative history excerpts support our holding
that the term "public records" as contemplated by section 456 refers to
documents already received by the government, not documents that will be
received by the government.
	[¶10]  Our examination of the statutory scheme embodied in Chapter
19, Falsification in Official Matters, also confirms our reading of section 456. 
In interpreting section 456, we look to create a harmonious result between
section 453 and section 456 -- presumably the intent of the legislature.  See
Davis v. Scott Paper Co., 507 A.2d 581, 583 (Me. 1986); Finks, 328 A.2d at
795 ("Every statute must be construed in connection with the whole system
of which it forms a part and all legislation on the same subject matter must
be viewed in its overall entirety in order to reach a harmonious result which
we presume the Legislature intended.") (citations omitted); Friendship v.
Bristol, 132 Me. 285, 289; 170 A. 496 (Me. 1934) (in order for Court to
determine legislative intent concerning statute it must consider sections of
same statutory chapter together -- "the legislative intent is to be drawn from
a consideration of the whole act, and effect must be given, if possible, to
every part of it").  We acknowledge that the law "permits one matrix of facts
to generate, in terms of its legal consequences, more than one criminal
offense."  Fuller v. State, 282 A.2d 848, 852 (Me. 1971) (citing State v.
Farnham, 119 Me. 541, 112 A. 258 (1921)).  We consider section 453,
however, not to assess an alternative criminal statute that Spaulding may
have been prosecuted under, but rather to shed light on whether section
456 was intended by the legislature to address Spaulding's conduct at all.  
	[¶11]  Spaulding knowingly submitted an application to the CNA
Registry office that affirmatively omitted her prior criminal convictions. 
Pursuant to section 453, Spaulding would be criminally liable for this act if: 
(1) she made a written false statement she did not believe to be true on a
form bearing notification authorized by statute or regulation to the effect
that false statements made therein were punishable; or (2) the false
statement was made with the intent to deceive a public servant in the
performance of his official duties.  17-A M.R.S.A. § 453 (1983).  The State
contends that Spaulding may be prosecuted for the same act pursuant to
section 456 although neither of the abovementioned elements need to be
proved. 
	[¶12]  The 1975 Comment to section 453 states that "[t]he deception
of a public servant is penalized here in narrow circumstances."  17-A
M.R.S.A. § 453 comment (1975).{3}  Allowing the State to prosecute
Spaulding for her conduct, although the State did not have to demonstrate
that Spaulding intended to deceive the State or that the form she filled out
bore a notice that false statements made therein are punishable,
considerably widens the circumstances under which one may be penalized
for deceiving the government.   Permitting the prosecution of Spaulding
pursuant to section 456 circumvents the legislative intent behind section
453 and produces an inharmonious construction of Chapter 19.  See
Guilford v. Monson, 134 Me. 261, 185 A. 517 (1936) ("[A]ll the statutes on
one subject are to be viewed as one.  Such a construction must prevail as will
form a consistent and harmonious whole, instead of an incongruous,
arbitrary and exceptional conglomeration.") (quoting Smith v. Chase, 71 Me.
164 (1880)).
	[¶13]  Applicability of section 456 is logically limited to the alteration
of an existing public record.  Tampering pursuant to section 456 should not
encompass the acts of unsworn falsification -- that is the realm of
section 453.
	The entry is:
Judgment vacated.  Remanded for the entry of a
judgment of acquittal.


Link to the dissenting opinion.