HEFFERNAN, CHIEF JUSTICE.
This is a review of an unpublished decision of the court of appeals affirming a judgment of the circuit court for Grant County, John R. Wagner, Judge, that found Jeffrey Olson not guilty of operating a motor vehicle after revocation-first offense ("OAR-first offense") in violation of sec. 343.44(1), Stats,
The circuit court denied the state's motion for a special jury instruction omitting scienter as a required element of sec. 343.44(1), Stats. In denying the motion, Judge Wagner concluded that the holding in Collova continued in effect absent express legislative action to the contrary. On appeal, Judge Sundby (sitting alone) expressed concern with the result of Judge Wagner's decision but nonetheless concurred in the court's reasoning. We too agree with the reasoning and the decision of the circuit court and therefore affirm the decision of the court of appeals.
On July 8, 1991, Jeffrey Olson was cited for OAR-first offense, a civil offense under sec. 343.44(2), Stats. The charge resulted from a June 20, 1991, traffic stop in which the police officer who stopped Olson to check his vehicle's registration later discovered that Olson's license had been revoked because he had committed two six point driving violations in less than a year.
The question before this court is whether the legislature intended sec. 343.44, Stats., as amended, to be a statute of strict liability. Statutory construction is a question of law that this court determines de novo. State v. Moore, 167 Wis.2d 491, 495-96, 481 N.W.2d 633 (1992); State v. Berndt, 161 Wis.2d 116, 121-22, 467 N.W.2d 205 (Ct. App. 1991). The principle objective of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Green Bay Redevelopment Authority v. Bee Frank, Inc., 120 Wis.2d 402, 409, 355 N.W.2d 240 (1984) (citing Ball v. District No. 4, Area Board, 117 Wis.2d 529, 537-38, 345 N.W.2d 389 (1984)). In the instant case, construing sec. 343.44(1), requires this court to determine the sweep of the legislative intent in decriminalizing OAR-first offense in light of this court's Collova decision mandated four years earlier when OAR-first offense carried criminal penalties and we held scienter was required.
State v. Collova involved a defendant charged with OAR because he failed to maintain a current certificate of insurance with the Division of Motor Vehicles as required because of a prior revocation. Although the OAR statute was silent with regard to whether scienter was a necessary element of the crime, this court stated that in such situations it is the obligation of the court to determine the legislative intent from the nature of the particular statute involved. Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 480.
In reaching this conclusion, the Collova court distinguished between criminal statutes that are designed to penalize moral culpability and regulatory statutes that are designed to prevent widespread social injury. Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 482.
Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 485. Examples of common "regulatory criminal statutes" include: failure to have a license, failure to comply with regulations when trafficking in drugs or in firearms, food and drug regulations, traffic law violations, and consumer fraud protections. Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 484-85.
After identifying the defining indicia distinguishing punitive and regulatory criminal statutes, the Collova court went on to characterize the OAR statute as punitive in nature. In so holding, the court acknowledged that certain factors prove more or less dispositive depending on the nature of the particular statute. For example, the court might consider the regulatory nature of the statute, the degree of care that can be exercised by the defendant, or the severity of penalty attached to a violation. In the case of OAR, the court focused primarily
The state maintains that the holding in State v. Collova was predicated on the fact that initial violations of sec. 343.44(1) carried criminal penalties—mandatory jail sentences ranging from ten days to one year, and mandatory fines ranging from $100 to $400. The state quotes at length from the Collova opinion, focusing on the sections that highlight this court's concern with the severity of penalty:
Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 485-87 (citations and footnotes omitted). In light of the references to the criminal penalties attached to sec. 343.44(1), the state concludes that this court was concerned solely with the nature and
We disagree with this narrow interpretation of Collova's holding. It is true, as stated supra, that in Collova this court scrutinized the severity of penalty under sec. 343.44, Stats. The penalty, however, was merely a single criterion for determining whether the statute was regulatory or punitive in nature. The court noted that:
Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 486. Explicit in the reasoning of the Collova court was a concern over the basic unfairness of imposing so harsh a punishment on defendants who were not aware that they were operating a vehicle without a valid license. We stated that "[t]o inflict substantial punishment on a person who is innocent of any intentional or negligent wrongdoing offends the sense of justice and is ineffective." Id.
The Collova court's broad fairness concerns find their roots in the constitutional protections that delineate the scope and nature of criminal proceedings. The United States constitution speaks in terms of criminal
The Collova court used the penalty associated with OAR-first offense as a gauge of the legislature's intentions in enacting sec. 343.44, Stats. Specifically, the
State v. Stoehr is another example of a case in which this court was confronted with a statute that was silent with respect to scienter. The issue in Stoehr was whether sec. 946.13(1)(b), Stats., which prohibited a public officer from having a private interest in a public contract, was a strict liability statute. The Stoehr court relied on Collova for the following factors to be considered when determining whether a statute requires scienter: the language of the statute, the legislative history of the statute, the seriousness of the penalty, the purpose of the statute and the practical requirements of effective law enforcement. State v. Stoehr, 134 Wis. 2d at 76 (citing Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 478-480, 482, 485; State v. Stanfield, 105 Wis.2d 553, 560-61, 314 N.W.2d 339 (1982), overruled on other grounds, State v. Poellinger, 153 Wis.2d 493, 451 N.W.2d 752 (1990)). After considering all four criteria, the Stoehr court concluded that sec. 946.13(1), Stats., was a statute of strict liability. Stoehr, 134 Wis. 2d at 71.
We find it significant that the Stoehr court reached this conclusion despite the relatively harsh statutory penalties attached to a violation of sec. 946.13(1)(b), namely a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed two years or both. Stoehr, 134 Wis. 2d at 70. In so holding, the court acknowledged the severity of the penalties involved but reasoned that the statute's legislative history, statutory language and purpose, and public
Stoehr and Collova clearly indicate that this court considers a variety of factors in determining legislative intent when confronted with legislative silence with respect to the element of scienter. In Collova, the court focused on the criminal sanctions that accompanied a violation of OAR-first offense. In Stoehr, the court focused on more subjective criteria such as statutory language and purpose. While the focus of each case may be different, both illustrate this court's concern with the broader question of whether punishment may fairly be imposed on defendants who are unaware that their actions are not in compliance with the law. In light of the language employed by these cases and our holdings therein, we are not persuaded by the state's argument that our decision in Collova to extend the requirement of scienter to OAR-first offense was predicated solely on the existence of criminal sanctions. We disagree with the state that the holding of Collova is inapplicable as a matter of law to OAR-first offense civil actions.
The state nevertheless contends that Collova's holding is irrelevant to the instant dispute because the legislature implicitly overruled the decision by decriminalizing
When determining legislative intent, this court must assume that the legislature knew the law in effect at the time of its actions. State v. Hungerford, 84 Wis.2d 236, 251, 267 N.W.2d 258 (1978). Moreover, we presume that the legislature is aware that absent some kind of response this court's interpretation of the statute remains in effect. In re Interest of Z.J.H., 162 Wis.2d 1002, 1023, 471 N.W.2d 202 (1991) (quoting Zimmerman v. Wisconsin Elec. Power Co., 38 Wis.2d 626, 633-34, 157 N.W.2d 648 (1968)). Legislative silence with regard to new court-made decisions indicates legislative acquiescence in those decisions. In Interest of R.W.S., 162 Wis.2d 862, 880, 471 N.W.2d 16 (1991); State v. Eichman, 155 Wis.2d 552, 566, 455 N.W.2d 143 (1990).
From 1957 when the statute was renumbered to appear in its present place in the statutes, to 1981, when the statute was decriminalized, the legislature amended the penalty provisions of sec. 343.44, Stats., no fewer than six times.
Moreover, within months of this court's decision in Collova the legislature amended the penalty structure of sec. 343.44, Stats. It reduced the criminal fine attached to a violation of sec. 343.44(1) but took no action to decriminalize the offense. Assuming as we must that the legislature was aware of the Collova decision when it adopted the 1977 amendments then the legislature's failure to decriminalize the statute in 1977 indicated a desire to retain the element of scienter. This argument is particularly persuasive if the state is correct in its assertion that the Collova decision was predicated on the criminal / civil dichotomy.
We are further persuaded that the legislature acquiesced in the Collova decision because the jury instructions that apply to sec. 343.44, Stats., continue to require the element of scienter in civil OAR prosecutions.
We are not persuaded by the state's interpretation of the legislative history surrounding sec. 343.44, Stats. The state urges an interpretation of civil OAR that belies the reality of the legislative actions taken in regard to the statute. It is true that the legislature eventually decriminalized OAR-first offense, but only four years after the decision in Collova was mandated and only after the criminal penalties had twice been amended without any reference to the element of scienter. We therefore reject the state's position that the legislature, in decriminalizing OAR-first offense, overruled sub silentio this court's holding in Collova.
Statutory drafting is not always the model of clarity and the courts accordingly must play an important role in clarifying sometimes less than pellucid statutory language. Nevertheless, we take this opportunity to point out that with statutory construction, as with the common-law:
Morissette, 342 U.S. at 263. Nor should it be extended by the judiciary to statutory offenses. If the Wisconsin legislature intends in the future that civil OAR be enforced as a statute of strict liability then it must make these intentions known clearly and unequivocably. In keeping with past decisions of this court, we conclude that decriminalizing penalties alone is insufficient to manifest a legislative intent that a statute which previously had been construed to require scienter be applied as one of the strict liability.
By the Court.—Decision of the court of appeals is affirmed.
STEINMETZ, J. (dissenting.)
For several reasons, I agree with the state's position that the element of scienter no longer applies to first-offense OAR when the violation is subject only to civil penalties. First, the legislative history of sec. 343.44(1), Stats., shows a legislative intent to remove the element of scienter from first-offense OAR. In Collova, the dispositive factor in our determination to require the state to prove scienter in an OAR prosecution was the criminal penalties attached to OAR. State v. Collova, 79 Wis.2d 473, 485, 255 N.W.2d 581 (1977). The legislature, in turn, responded to Collova by decriminalizing first-offense OAR. Removal of the dispositive factor relied upon in Collova evinces a legislative
I realize that the scienter element in the jury instruction for first-offense OAR was not removed after the offense became civil. Wis. J.I.—Criminal, Part IIA, 2620A. However, this instruction is not controlling authority, State v. O'Neil, 141 Wis.2d 535, 541 n.1, 416 N.W.2d 77 (Ct. App. 1987), and should not be held as persuasive.
Second, the language of sec. 343.44, Stats., shows a legislative intent to remove the element of scienter from first-offense OAR. Section 343.44(1), which defines the offense of OAR, does not expressly require scienter. In addition, except for drivers of commercial vehicles and persons whose licenses have been revoked pursuant to chapter 351, the penalties for first-offense OAR are civil. See secs. 939.12, Stats. (crime defined); 343.44(2)(a) (penalties for first-offense OAR, noncommercial vehicle); 343.44(2g)(a) (penalties for first-offense OAR when revocation or suspension was for a listed offense, effective January 1, 1993); 343.44(2m)(a) (penalties for first-offense OAR, commercial vehicles); 343.44(4) (impoundment).
Third, for practical reasons, the element of scienter should be removed from first-offense OAR when the offense is subject only to civil penalties. When discussion State v. Stoehr, 134 Wis.2d 66, 396 N.W.2d 177 (1986), the majority states the following: "In so holding, the court [in Stoehr] acknowledged the severity of the penalties involved but reasoned that the statute's legislative history, statutory language and purpose, and public policies warranted strict liability." Majority op. at 639-640.
To the contrary, the defendant in this case is not subject to criminal penalties. When the penalty attached to first-offense OAR is merely civil, scienter should not be an element of the offense. Are we to require scienter for the offenses of speeding, illegal U-turn, or illegal left turn? They are civil offenses which do not require proof of scienter. Sections 346.57, Stats. (speed restrictions); 346.60 (penalty for speeding); 346.31 (left turn); 346.33 (U-turn); 346.36 (penalties for illegal left turn and U-turn). The same is generally true for OAR first-offense.
In addition, OAR first-offense may be charged under an identical municipal ordinance and prosecuted in a municipal court. Will scienter now be required in municipal court?
Finally, observation of Wisconsin trial courts while first-offense OAR carried criminal penalties explains why the legislature decriminalized the offense. More than any other action, first-offense OAR was turning mere citizens into criminals. In addition, trial courts were overcrowded with first-offense OAR prosecutions because citizens faces with potential jail terms often asked for reduced charges and demanded jury trials. The practical effect of decriminalizing first offense-OAR was to eliminate jail sentences, decrease the demand for jury trials in busy courts, and eliminated plea bargains.
Fourth, the purpose of the OAR statute warrants removal of the scienter element from a first-offense violation. "When the legislature's goal is primarily to regulate, to accomplish a social good, or to obtain a high standard of care, proof of a criminal state of mind is often eliminated to achieve the desired result." Stoehr,
Collova, 79 Wis. 2d at 485.
For the foregoing reasons, I would reverse the court of appeals decision. Accordingly, I dissent.
I am authorized to state that JUSTICES ROLAND B. DAY and LOUIS J. CECI join this dissenting opinion.
Wis. Stat. § 343.44(1) (1991-92).
Wis. Stats., § 343.32(2)(b) and (c) (1991-92).
In this case, Olson's violations occurred three hundred and fifty-seven days apart: the first on February 17, 1990, and the second on February 9, 1991. Normally four point violations, Olson's two speeding violations each carried six points because he was driving with a probationary license and had a prior driving conviction dating back to 1987. While the February 17th citation was silent as to the number of points assessed, the February 9th citation estimated that Olson would be assessed only four points for the violation.
(1) the defendant operated a motor vehicle on a highway of this state;
(2) the defendant operated a motor vehicle at a time when his operating privilege was duly revoked; and
(3) the defendant knew or had cause to believe that his operating privilege had been revoked.
Wis. J.I.—Criminal 2620 requires the same elements for subsequent OAR prosecutions. The two instructions differ only as to the burden of proof required before the court may convict.
In modifying the instruction for the instant case, Judge Wagner substituted the civil burden proof ("clear, satisfactory and convincing evidence") for the standard criminal burden of proof ("beyond a reasonable doubt").