McReynolds v. Municipal Court of City of Ottumwa, 55528

Citation207 N.W.2d 792
Decision Date23 May 1973
Docket NumberNo. 55528,55528
PartiesGerald Aaron McREYNOLDS, Plaintiff, v. MUNICIPAL COURT OF the CITY OF OTTUMWA, Iowa, and District Court of Wapello County, Iowa, Defendants.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa

Bailey C. Webber, Ottumwa, for plaintiff.

Richard C. Turner, Atty. Gen., and John F. Beamer, Asst. Atty. Gen., Des Moines, for defendants.


REES, Justice.

This matter comes to us as an original proceedings in certiorari to determine the validity of an order of the Municipal Court of Ottemwa and the Wapello District Court for the forfeiture of one certain 1966 model 260 'B' Bellanca airplane bearing registration number N8546R, the property of the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff was arrested in Wapello County on September 17, 1970, and charged with unlawful possession of marijuana in violation of section 204.2, The Code, 1966. He was tried and convicted and appealed to this court, and the judgment of conviction was affirmed on February 25, 1972. See State v. McReynolds, 195 N.W.2d 102 (Iowa 1972).

When arrested plaintiff was in the airplane above described and the marijuana seized was also in the aircraft. Following the affirmance of judgment of conviction of this court, the forfeiture matter proceeded, resulting in the decree of the Wapello District Court directing and ordering the forfeiture of the airplane to the State, as authorized by section 204.11(3), and chapter 127, The Code, 1966.

The forfeiture proceedings were initially instituted in the Municipal Court of Ottumwa which ordered forfeiture of the plane, and subsequently the State of Iowa filed its application in the Wapello District Court to determine the legality and priority of certain claims to the aircraft. The proceedings in the district court were abated awaiting the determination of the appeal in the criminal matter, and on March 14, 1972 the decree of the Wapello District Court directing forfeiture was entered.

Plaintiff advances two grounds on which he relies for the sustaining of the writ of certiorari:

(1) The Municipal Court and the District Court were without legal authorization to declare forfeiture of the Bellanca aircraft since an aircraft is not within the meaning of 'any automobile or other vehicle' specified by section 204.11, Code of Iowa, 1971; and

,(2) The forfeiture ordered by the Municipal Court and the District Court under section 204.11(3), The Code, 1971, was in error in that such action deprived plaintiff of his property without due process of law, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

I. Plaintiff contends section 204.11(3), The Code, 1971, did not as a matter of law permit the forfeiture of the airplane because the same is not an 'automobile or other vehicle'. Section 204.11(3) provides:

'Any automobile or other vehicle used, or intended to be used, to conceal, convey, carry, or transport in violation of this chapter any of the drugs defined in section 204.1, or any automobile or vehicle in which any of the drugs defined in said section are unlawfully possessed by an occupant with the knowledge of the owner thereof, shall be forfeited to the state under the provisions of chapter 127.'

As noted above, the statute under which the forfeiture proceedings were commenced and maintained does not specifically provide for the forfeiture of airplanes or aircraft. We are therefore faced with the responsibility, as was the trial court, to construe the statute and to determine whether or not airplanes or aircraft come within the fair intendment of the statute permitting forfeiture. We recognize the general rule that penal statutes are to be strictly construed and should not be held to include charges plainly without the scope and intendment of the language of the statute, although within its reason and policy, and all doubts should be resolved in favor of the plaintiff in such case. However we recognize also the corollary rule that statutes are not to be construed so strictly as to defeat the obvious intention of the legislature, and that the general rule should not be applied to narrow the words of the statute to the exclusion of cases in which such words in their ordinary use or in the sense in which the legislature used them, would be defeated. See 36 Am.Jur.2d, Forfeitures, § 8, page 615; State v. Leonard, 255 Iowa 1365, 124 N.W.2d 429; State v. Nelson, 178 N.W.2d 434 (Iowa 1970).

In construing statutes, and words used therein the sense in which such words were used, the court may properly consider the objects and purposes of the statute. State v. Lindsey, 165 N.W.2d 807, 810 (Iowa 1969); State v. Robinson, 165 N.W.2d 802, 805 (Iowa 1969).

Within the ambit of the foregoing rules we now proceed to a construction of the statute in question here.

Plaintiff first contends the definition of 'motor vehicle' or 'vehicle' in section 321.1, The Code, does not include aircraft. Chapter 321 is entitled, 'Motor Vehicles and Law of Road'. Section 321.1 of said chapter expressly provides that the definition of vehicles or motor vehicles 'for the purpose of this chapter, have the meanings respectively ascribed to them.' We conclude therefore the definition of a vehicle or motor vehicle in section 321.1 relates only to vehicles moving over or designed and intended to move over the public highways of this state, and is not in any sense related to the provisions of chapter 204, The Code, 1971, or the use of the words 'automobile' or 'other vehicle' as used in chapter 204.

Likewise, the definition of an aircraft in section 328.1, The Code, 1971, has reference only to the use of said term for the purposes of chapter 328 which provides for the organization of the Iowa Aeronautics Commission and fixes the limitations of its duties and authority.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary (G. & C. Merriam Co. 1971) defines 'vehicle' as: 'a means of carrying or transporting something: CONVEYANCE: as a: a carrier of goods or passengers.' It also makes reference to 'aerial vehicles such as airplanes * * *'. Webster's New International Dictionary, 2d Ed., defines 'vehicle' as 'That in or on which a person or thing is or may be carried from one place to another, especially along the ground, also through the air; any moving support or container fitted or used for the conveyance of bulky objects; a means of conveyance.'

The second definition, that is, the one set out above from Webster's New International Dictionary, 2d Ed., has been referred to in State v. Johnston, 252 Iowa 335, 338, 105 N.W.2d 700, 701; Moffitt v. State Auto Ins. Ass'n, 140 Neb. 578, 300 N.W. 837; and see citations collected in Words & Phrases, Permanent Edition, Vol. 44, pages 145--159.

We agree with plaintiff that chapter 204, The Code, 1971, does not (in section 204.11(3)) define the term 'vehicle'. In construing the statute, however, we are obligated to employ the rule set out in section 4.1(2), The Code, which directs us to construe words and phrases according to the context and the approved usage of the language. The cases above cited are indicative to us of the fact the word 'vehicle' has come to be applied to aircraft in the ordinary lexicon.

We are unable to agree with plaintiff that section 204.13 of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act, as it appeared in The Code, 1971, and which section has particular reference to nuisances, indicates the legislature's intent to exclude aircraft from the operation of section 204.11(3). It is obvious to us the legislative intent was to proscribe the transportation of narcotics or controlled substances by any means, and this basic consideration must underlie the construction we put upon section 204.11(3).

Plaintiff places considerable reliance on the holding of Mr. Justice Holmes in McBoyle v. United States, 283 U.S. 25, 51 S.Ct. 340, 75 L.Ed. 816, in which Justice Holmes found an airplane not to be a 'motor vehicle' within the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act which, at that time, dealt with interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles. We must, however, consider McBoyle was written in 1931, at which time we would agree the use of the word 'vehicle' in everyday speech conjured up in the mind's eye the picture of some sort of vehicle moving over the surface of the earth, and not one moving through the air. We have frequently heard reference to the craft which have been used in space exploration and on expeditions to the moon as 'space vehicles'. We must therefore interpret the word 'vehicle' in the context in which it is used and in consideration of the tenor of the times.

Only shortly after McBoyle, and on April 22, 1935, the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, in United States v. One Pitcairn Bi-Plane, 2 Cir., 11 F.Supp. 24, held that an airplane was a vehicle and subject to forfeiture when it was used for the purpose of smuggling liquor into the United States. Plaintiff directs our attention to the fact the statute under which the Pitcairn forfeiture was laid, was later amended to specifically include aircraft, but our examination of the United States Code Annotated indicates the amendment did not come along until 1954--19 years after the New York District Court entered the order of forfeiture in the Pitcairn case.

We must also observe, as did not trial court in its decree, that section 204.11(3) and the nuisance statute above referred to (section 204.13) which expressly includes aircraft in its scope, have different legislative origins and histories.

As observed by the trial court, section 204.13 of the 1971 Code, is a part of the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act, and was first enacted in the exact language of the present statute (section 204.13) as section 13 of chapter 114 of the Acts of the 47th General Assembly in 1937. In the 1939 Code it appeared as section 3169.13, and in all subsequent codes up to the time of the repeal of the entire chapter...

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