Iowa City v. Nolan, No. 57504

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtMOORE; McCORMICK; HARRIS
Citation239 N.W.2d 102
PartiesIOWA CITY, Appellee, v. John NOLAN, Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 57504
Decision Date18 February 1976

Page 102

239 N.W.2d 102
IOWA CITY, Appellee,
v.
John NOLAN, Appellant.
No. 57504.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Feb. 18, 1976.

John Nolan, pro se.

Robert H. Bowlin, Asst. City Atty., Iowa City, for appellee.

En Banc.

MOORE, Chief Justice.

Defendant John Nolan was charged in the Magistrate Division of the District Court with over a dozen vehicle parking violations under three separate Iowa City ordinances. Upon conviction, he appealed

Page 103

three of the charges (one under each ordinance) to the Johnson District Court, where he was found guilty under all three ordinances. He was fined a total of $20. Nolan's defense consisted of a challenge to the constitutionality of these ordinances. On appeal, the parties unnecessarily limited the scope of the issues presented to this court and we therefore issued an order directing the parties to file supplemental briefs and set the matter for reargument. We find appellant's challenge to the constitutionality of these ordinances to be without merit and affirm his convictions under all three sections.

I. The case was presented to the trial court upon stipulation that the vehicle was illegally parked under the various ordinances and that defendant was the vehicle's registered owner. No evidence was offered regarding the identity of the operator of the illegally parked vehicle.

The relevant Iowa City ordinances are set out as follows (in pertinent portions):

§ 6.16.2 'No operator of a vehicle shall stop, stand or park any vehicle in any of the following places * * *.'

§ 6.16.9 'No person shall leave any vehicle upon any street, alley or public ground at any time for a period longer than twelve (12) hours * * *.'

§ 6.30.7 'It shall be unlawful and a violation of the provisions of this chapter for Any person to cause, allow, permit or suffer any vehicle registered in the name of or operated by such person to be parked overtime * * *.

'It shall be unlawful and a violation of the provisions of this chapter for any person to permit any vehicle to remain in any parking space beyond (the legal parking time).'

§ 6.54.1 'If any vehicle is found stopped, standing or parking in any manner violative of the provisions of Title 6 and the identity of the Operator cannot be determined, the Owner or person or corporation in whose name said vehicle is registered shall be held Prima facie responsible for said violation.' (Our emphasis).

Read together, these ordinances provide for enforcement of the statutory prohibitions against both active and passive traffic violators. Sections 6.16.2, 6.16.9 and 6.30.7 define the actual violations and are made operable through section 6.54.9 which provides for punishment of the operator if he or she can be found or of the vehicle's registered owner if the operator is not available. These provisions impose a form of strict or vicarious liability upon the registered owner of an illegally parked vehicle. It is upon the constitutional validity of this vicarious liability that our decision in this appeal must rest.

II. We have recently set out the burden to be met by a party challenging the constitutional validity of a statute or ordinance in Keasling v. Thompson, Iowa, 217 N.W.2d 687, 689. That discussion need not be repeated here. It will suffice to say that the challenger must overcome a strong presumption of constitutionality and negate every reasonable basis upon which the enactment might be upheld. In re Henderson, Iowa, 199 N.W.2d 111, 121. If more than one construction is possible, one of which will render the ordinance constitutional and another unconstitutional or of doubtful constitutionality, the construction by which it will be upheld will be followed and adopted. State v. Rasmussen, Iowa, 213 N.W.2d 661, 666.

III. In this criminal matter, the burden of proof upon the prosecution is well established under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The United States Supreme Court stated in In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 90 S.Ct. 1068, 1073, 25 L.Ed.2d 368, 375:

'(T)he Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.'

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This standard applies to both felonies and misdemeanors. City of Des Moines v. Rosenberg, 243 Iowa 262, 273, 51 N.W.2d 450, 456.

In a series of United States Supreme Court cases, the most important of which is Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 72 S.Ct. 240, 96 L.Ed. 288, the high court has carved out an exception to the general criminal due process considerations in the area of public welfare offenses. These are public regulations that arose in the post-industrial revolution era to cope with the complexities of the then-emerging industrialized world. These regulations have no ancestors in the common law and have been characterized as being:

'* * * in the nature of neglect where the law requires care, or inaction where it imposes a duty. Many violations of such regulations result in no direct or immediate injury to person or property but merely create the danger or probability of it which the law seeks to minimize. * * *. The accused, if he does not will the violation, usually is in a position to prevent it with no more care than society might reasonably expect and no more exertion that it might reasonably exact from one who assumed his responsibilities. * * *.' Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. at 255--256, 72 S.Ct. at 246, 96 L.Ed. at 296--297.

Violations of traffic regulations fall squarely within a proper classification of public welfare offenses. See Sayre, Public Welfare Offenses, 33 Col.L.Rev. 55, 73, 87.

There is wide latitude in lawmakers to declare an offense and to exclude elements of knowledge and diligence from its definition. Lambert v. California, 355 U.S. 225, 228, 78 S.Ct. 240, 242, 2 L.Ed.2d 228, 231; State v. Dobry, 217 Iowa 858, 861--862, 250 N.W.2d 702, 704, appeal dismissed, 293 U.S. 519, 55 S.Ct. 87, 79 L.Ed. 632. No general constitutional doctrine of mens rea has ever been articulated. Powell v. Texas, 392 U.S. 514, 535, 88 S.Ct. 2145, 2156, 20 L.Ed.2d 1254, 1269. Thus legislation delineating elements of a public welfare offense frequently dispenses with any awareness of wrongdoing. 'In the interest of the larger good it puts the burden of acting at hazard upon a person otherwise innocent but standing in responsible relation to a public danger.' United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 281, 64 S.Ct. 134, 136, 88 L.Ed. 48, 51. See also United States v. Park, 421 U.S. 658, 95 S.Ct. 1903, 44 L.Ed.2d 489, 498, 499; City of Des Moines v. Davis, Iowa, 214 N.W.2d 199, 202; State v. Dahnke, 244 Iowa 599, 603, 57 N.W.2d 553, 556.

Not only may public welfare legislation dispense with a mens rea or scienter requirement, it may, and frequently does, impose a vicarious 'criminal' liability for the acts of another. We recognized such liability in State v. Barry, 255 Iowa 1329, 125 N.W.2d 833, affirming the conviction of a partner in a car sales agency whose employee, without defendant's knowledge, permitted a customer to use pasteboard plates without application for registration and certificate of title. We there said:

'* * *. It (section 321.26, The Code, 1958 as amended) imposes a duty upon the dealer to see that this requirement is not neglected. It falls within the class of police offenses where the act is prohibited for the welfare of the state. It is in the nature of a prohibition such as is usually found in statutes that forbid a person to permit ice to accumulate before his front door on a city street. As is pointed out in Wharton's Criminal Law, 12th Edition, Vol. 1, § 29, page 45, in such instances it is of no consequence whether the offender was cognizant of the violation of the law. The legislature may adopt such a method as the best way of preventing deleterious results to the public. * * *.' 255 Iowa 1332, 125 N.W.2d 834.

See, e.g., Commonwealth v. Minicost Car Rental, Inc., 354 Mass. 746, 242 N.E.2d 411 (where car lessee illegally parked, rental agency's conviction upheld under a regulation almost identical with section 6.30.7,

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supra); City of Kansas City v. Hertz Corporation, Mo., 499 S.W.2d 449 (where driver was not present, vicarious liability imposed on owner under city ordinance very similar to section 6.54.1); Commonwealth v. Koczwara, 397 Pa. 575, 155 A.2d 825, cert. denied, 363 U.S. 848, 80 S.Ct. 1624, 4 L.Ed.2d 1731 (conviction upheld where defendant's employees sold beer to minors; jail sentence held invalid but fine left intact).

In this appeal the ordinances before us are clearly within a permissible area of regulation in the interest of people's lives and property. The tragic statistics have been so well promulgated as to be within the ordinary person's general knowledge. About 50,000 lives are lost annually through traffic accidents. A vastly greater number of persons are injured and crippled. Certainly an illegally parked vehicle on a downtown street during rush hour can seriously endanger pedestrian and vehicular travel.

Under the rationale of the above authorities, a registered owner may be vicariously liable for his illegally parked vehicle and subject to punishment pursuant to a public welfare regulation. Whether he may be subjected to imprisonment is not before us now. Compare the language of the statute involved in United States v. Park, supra, 421 U.S. at 666, 95 S.Ct. at 1908, 44 L.Ed.2d at 497, n. 10, with Justice Cardozo's language in People v. Sheffield Farms-Slawson-Decker Co., 225 N.Y. 25, 32--33, 121 N.E. 474, 477 and the holding in Commonwealth v. Koczwara, supra, 397 Pa. at 586, 155 A.2d 830--831.

Under this public welfare doctrine, it is clear section 6.54.1 may impose prima facie strict criminal responsibility upon the registered owner of an illegally parked vehicle. By proving (1) the existence of an illegally parked vehicle, (2) registered in the...

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27 practice notes
  • United States v. Quality Egg, LLC, No. C 14–3024–MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • April 14, 2015
    ...offense.” Id. The defendants also asserted that other state supreme courts, including Iowa's Supreme Court in Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 104–05 (Iowa 1976), have indicated “they would reach the same conclusion.” Id.In addition, the defendants asserted that the Supreme Court “has he......
  • McNeely v. US, No. 98-CF-924.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • May 12, 2005
    ...of immediate death or serious bodily injury). For recognized defenses to other strict liability offenses, see Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 105 (Iowa 1976) (holding that a statute making the owner of a vehicle strictly and vicariously liable for all parking citations is constitutional......
  • Chicago Title Ins. Co. v. Huff, No. 2-57752
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 29, 1977
    ...supra, 259 Iowa 845, 850, 851, 146 N.W.2d 626, 631." See generally State v. Bahl, 242 N.W.2d 298, 300 (Iowa 1976); Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 103 (Iowa 1976); Catholic Char. of Arch. of Dubuque v. Zalesky, 232 N.W.2d 539, 543 (Iowa 1975); State v. Hall, 227 N.W.2d 192, 193-194 (Iow......
  • State v. Conner, No. 62499
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 21, 1980
    ...of traffic regulation violations, which we have categorized as public welfare offenses that impose strict liability. Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 104 (Iowa We believe that convicting someone of involuntary manslaughter, thereby subjecting him to a possible sentence of five years of i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
27 cases
  • United States v. Quality Egg, LLC, No. C 14–3024–MWB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Northern District of Iowa
    • April 14, 2015
    ...offense.” Id. The defendants also asserted that other state supreme courts, including Iowa's Supreme Court in Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 104–05 (Iowa 1976), have indicated “they would reach the same conclusion.” Id.In addition, the defendants asserted that the Supreme Court “has he......
  • McNeely v. US, No. 98-CF-924.
    • United States
    • District of Columbia Court of Appeals of Columbia District
    • May 12, 2005
    ...of immediate death or serious bodily injury). For recognized defenses to other strict liability offenses, see Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 105 (Iowa 1976) (holding that a statute making the owner of a vehicle strictly and vicariously liable for all parking citations is constitutional......
  • Chicago Title Ins. Co. v. Huff, No. 2-57752
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • June 29, 1977
    ...supra, 259 Iowa 845, 850, 851, 146 N.W.2d 626, 631." See generally State v. Bahl, 242 N.W.2d 298, 300 (Iowa 1976); Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 103 (Iowa 1976); Catholic Char. of Arch. of Dubuque v. Zalesky, 232 N.W.2d 539, 543 (Iowa 1975); State v. Hall, 227 N.W.2d 192, 193-194 (Iow......
  • State v. Conner, No. 62499
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 21, 1980
    ...of traffic regulation violations, which we have categorized as public welfare offenses that impose strict liability. Iowa City v. Nolan, 239 N.W.2d 102, 104 (Iowa We believe that convicting someone of involuntary manslaughter, thereby subjecting him to a possible sentence of five years of i......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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