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State v. Outzen

Supreme Court of Utah

June 7, 2017

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Wyatt Jeff Outzen, Appellant.

         On Direct Appeal Fourth District, Provo The Honorable Claudia Laycock No. 145400088

          Jeff Buhman, Lance E. Bastian, Provo, for appellee.

          Michael J. Petro, Dallas Young, Provo, for appellant.

          Chief Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Durham, Justice Himonas, and Justice Pearce joined.

          OPINION

          DURRANT, CHIEF JUSTICE

         Introduction

         ¶ 1 Hours after ingesting marijuana, Wyatt Jeff Outzen fell asleep at the wheel and caused a two-car collision. Sobriety tests revealed that Mr. Outzen was not too impaired to drive, but a blood test revealed that he had the primary metabolite of marijuana in his system. He was charged under Utah Code section 41-6a-517 for operating a motor vehicle with a metabolite of a controlled substance in his body. After entering a guilty plea in justice court, Mr. Outzen appealed his conviction to the district court. There, he moved to dismiss, arguing that the plain language of section 41-6a-517 requires a showing of impairment and that the statute violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and the uniform operation of laws provision of the Utah Constitution. The district court denied his motion and Mr. Outzen once again entered a guilty plea, reserving his right to appeal. We hold that the plain language of section 41-6a-517 does not require impairment and that the statute does not violate the federal or state constitutions. Accordingly, we affirm.

         Background

         ¶ 2 Mr. Outzen fell asleep while driving and struck the back of another vehicle. Utah Highway Patrol (UHP) troopers responded and "saw and smelled signs of marijuana in [Mr.] Outzen's vehicle." They searched his car, but did not find any contraband. The troopers observed a lack of convergence in Mr. Outzen's eyes and green mucus covering his tongue, which they recognized as signs that he had recently smoked marijuana. Mr. Outzen agreed to let the troopers administer field sobriety tests, which indicated that he "was not too impaired to drive." Mr. Outzen told the troopers that "he smokes marijuana, consumes it about every other day, and the last time that he consumed it was about 7 p.m. the night before." He was taken to a UHP office, where he submitted breath, urine, and blood samples. His blood tested positive for the primary metabolite of marijuana.

         ¶ 3 Mr. Outzen was charged under Utah Code section 41-6a-517 with one count of driving with a metabolite of a controlled substance in the body, a class B misdemeanor.[1] The case was filed in Utah County Justice Court, where Mr. Outzen entered a guilty plea. He then appealed to the Fourth Judicial District Court for a trial de novo.

         ¶ 4 In the district court, Mr. Outzen filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the plain language of section 41-6a-517 requires a showing of impairment and that the statute violates provisions of both the federal and state constitutions. The court denied his motion and set the case for a bench trial. Mr. Outzen chose to enter a plea of no contest, but reserved his right to appeal, which he timely did.[2] We have jurisdiction under Utah Code section 78A-3-102(3)(b).[3]

         Standard of Review

         ¶ 5 Mr. Outzen raises three issues on appeal. First, he asks us to determine whether the district court correctly interpreted Utah Code section 41-6a-517. That court concluded that the statute criminalized operating or being in actual physical control of a motor vehicle with any measurable amount of a controlled substance, including a metabolite, in one's body, regardless of the substance's potential to cause impairment. "We review questions of statutory interpretation for correctness, affording no deference to the district court's legal conclusions."[4]

         ¶ 6 Mr. Outzen then asks us to determine whether the district court correctly concluded that section 41-6a-517 does not violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and article I, section 24 of the Utah Constitution. "Whether a statute is constitutional presents a question of law. We presume the statute is constitutional, and we 'resolve any reasonable doubts in favor of constitutionality.'"[5]

         Analysis

         I. The Plain Language of Utah Code Section 41-6a-517 Does Not Require Impairment

         ¶ 7 Utah Code section 41-6a-517 provides that "[i]n cases not amounting to a violation of Section 41-6a-502 [the DUI statute], a person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a motor vehicle within this state if the person has any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person's body." The district court read the statute to "unambiguously criminalize[] 'operat[ing] or be[ing] in actual physical control of a motor vehicle' with 'any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person's body, ' regardless of the metabolite's potential, or not, to cause impairment." The court specifically addressed the phrase "in cases not amounting to, " reasoning that the phrase distinguishes section 41-6a-517 from section 41-6a-502, the DUI statute, by "negat[ing] any requirement to show actual or potential impairment."

         ¶ 8 Mr. Outzen argues that the district court's "construction of that clause is incorrect because the only reasonable reading of the '[i]n cases not amounting to' clause is that the scope of prohibited conduct under [section 41-6a-517] is necessarily similar to the scope of prohibited conduct under the DUI statute." He further argues that to not read the two statutes as similar in scope renders the phrase "in cases not amounting to" superfluous in section 41-6a-517. He reasons that the DUI statute "acknowledges that impairment occurs by degrees, and that a person only violates that statute when his or her impairment rises to a level that the person is incapable of safe operation of a vehicle. Prior to the point of incapacity of safe operation of a vehicle, the person has not violated the statute."[6] He concludes that, "by its reference to the DUI statute, " section 41-6a-517 "sets the scope of prohibited conduct . . . on the same spectrum identified in the DUI statute"-in other words, section 41-6a-517 also requires a showing of impairment.

         ¶ 9 "[A] statute's unambiguous language 'may not be interpreted to contradict its plain meaning.'"[7] "[W]e do not view individual words and subsections in isolation; instead, our statutory interpretation 'requires that each part or section be construed in connection with every other part or section so as to produce a harmonious whole.'"[8] We "interpret[] statutes to give meaning to all parts, and avoid[] rendering portions of the statute superfluous."[9]Finally, when we can determine the meaning of the statute from the plain language alone, "'no other interpretive tools are needed, ' and our task of statutory construction is typically at an end."[10]

         ¶ 10 Mr. Outzen relies on section 41-6a-517's reference to the DUI statute to incorporate language of impairment into section 41-6a-517. But there is no language of impairment in section 41-6a-517 itself. The conduct prohibited by section 41-6a-517 is "operat[ing] or be[ing] in actual physical control of a motor vehicle" with "any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance" in the person's body.[11] Employing the phrase "[i]n cases not amounting to a violation of [the DUI statute]" does not limit the meaning of "any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance." A person who has introduced a measurable controlled substance into his or her system and then chooses to drive is in violation of section 41-6a-517. If the level of the measurable controlled substance results in the individual being "incapable of safely operating a vehicle, " he or she is also then in violation of the DUI statute. In other words, to the extent that violation of section 41-6a-517 rises to a level of impairment, the "not amounting to" clause allows an individual to be charged under either statute-it does not limit the applicability of section 41-6a-517.

         ¶ 11 Mr. Outzen's reading of section 41-6a-517 is in conflict with a key term of the statute. The statute criminalizes driving with "any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person's body." (Emphasis added.) To limit the measurable controlled substances and metabolites to those that cause impairment would reduce the scope of the statute to less than "any"-a result that is incompatible with the legislature's use of the word any.

         ¶ 12 The language of section 41-6a-517 is clear. An individual violates the statute when he or she "operate[s] or [is] in actual physical control of a motor vehicle" with "any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in the person's body." Because the plain language of section 41-6a-517 is unambiguous, "'no other interpretive tools are needed, ' and our task of statutory construction is . . . at an end."[12]

         II. Utah Code Section 41-6a-517 Does Not Violate the United States Constitution

         ¶ 13 Mr. Outzen argues that Utah Code section 41-6a-517 violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution because it constitutes a status offense under Robinson v. California.[13] In Robinson, the United States Supreme Court held that a statute was unconstitutional because the statute made it a criminal offense to "be addicted to the use of narcotics."[14] The Court stated that criminalizing an addiction did not punish "a person for the use of narcotics, " but "[r]ather, . . . makes the 'status' of narcotic addiction a criminal offense, for which the offender may be prosecuted 'at any time before he reforms.'"[15] The Court recognized that "narcotic addiction is an illness . . . . which may be contracted innocently or involuntarily, " and that to "imprison[] a person thus afflicted as a criminal . . . inflicts a cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.[16]

         ¶ 14 In State v. Robinson, [17] this court distinguished a Utah statute from the one at issue in Robinson v. California. The Utah statute, a provision of the Utah Controlled Substances Act, "makes it unlawful for any person to 'knowingly and intentionally' have 'any measurable amount of a controlled substance in [his or her] body.'"[18]The defendant in State v. Robinson argued that, like the statute found unconstitutional in Robinson v. California, Utah's "measurable amount provision criminalizes 'simply the status of having been affected by a controlled substance at some previous time.'"[19] We distinguished Robinson v. California's holding-that a state cannot make "the 'status' of narcotic addiction a criminal offense"[20]-from the function of Utah's measurable amount provision, which "criminalizes the act of using or being under the influence of a controlled substance in Utah."[21] ...


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