State v. Laude

Decision Date07 December 1982
Docket NumberNo. 5705,5705
Citation654 P.2d 1223
PartiesThe STATE of Wyoming, Plaintiff, v. Gary D. LAUDE, Defendant.
CourtWyoming Supreme Court

Steven F. Freudenthal, Atty. Gen., Gerald A. Stack, Deputy Atty. Gen., Crim. Div., and Allen C. Johnson, Senior Asst. Atty. Gen. (argued), signed the brief on behalf of plaintiff.

Richard S. Dumbrill, Newcastle, signed the brief and appeared in oral argument on behalf of defendant.

Before ROSE, C.J., and RAPER, THOMAS, ROONEY and BROWN, JJ.

RAPER, Justice.

This matter comes before us on a bill of exceptions 1 brought by the State in which exception is taken to the decision made by the Honorable Paul T. Liamos, Jr., District Judge of the Sixth Judicial District declaring unconstitutional § 6-3-124, et seq., W.S.1977, Cum.Supp.1982. Judge Liamos' decision was made in dismissing a criminal complaint brought against Mr. Gary Laude, for writing an insufficient funds check in violation of § 6-3-124, supra. In that decision, Judge Liamos held:

"1. That W.S.1977 § 6-3-124, et seq., as amended by the Session Laws of 1980, Chapter 18, § 1, violates the Equal Protection Clause, Section One, of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

"2. That W.S.1977 § 6-3-124, et seq., as amended by the Session Laws of 1980, Chapter 18, § 1, violates Article I, Section Five of the Constitution of the State of Wyoming, prohibiting imprisonment for debt, except in cases of fraud.

"3. That W.S.1977, § 6-3-124, et seq., as amended by the Session Laws of 1980, Chapter 18, § 1, violates the due process of law clause of Article One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and Article I, Section Six of the Constitution of the State of Wyoming, because the law is too vague and indefinite as to the time when the offense is committed." 2

The State takes exception to that decision and phrases the issues it would have us consider as follows:

"I. Do Sections 6-3-123, et seq., W.S.1977, violate the Equal Protection Clause, Section 1, of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?

"II. Do Sections 6-3-123, et seq., W.S.1977, violate Article 1, Section 5, of the Wyoming Constitution, in that they constitute imprisonment for debt for a reason other than fraud?

"III. Do Sections 6-3-123, et seq., W.S.1977, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution, or of Article 1, Section 6, of the Wyoming Constitution, in that they are too vague and indefinite as to the time when the offense is committed?" 3

We will sustain the exceptions taken by the State.

The facts can be simply stated. On January 22, 1982, a criminal complaint was filed against Mr. Laude alleging a violation of § 6-3-124, supra. The complaint alleged that on November 23, 1981, Laude issued a $260.50 check (later amended to $260.00) drawn on an account in the Moorcroft State Bank which the bank failed to pay because Laude had insufficient funds with that bank. On April 8, 1982, a motion to dismiss the charges against Laude was filed stating as grounds for dismissal that § 6-3-124, et seq., supra, was unconstitutional. On April 13, 1982, after hearing arguments on the motion to dismiss, Judge Liamos, without written opinion, dismissed the information against Laude and declared the statutes in question unconstitutional as before stated. This appeal followed.

Before we begin a discussion of each issue raised by the State, we feel it appropriate to again set out the standard of review we employ in determining the constitutionality of a legislative enactment. In Sanchez v. State, Wyo., 567 P.2d 270, 274 (1977), this court, citing State v. Stern, Wyo., 526 P.2d 344, 346-347 (1974), summarized the well-established rules we employ in deciding whether statutes are constitutional:

" ' * * * [T]he plain, ordinary, and usual meaning of words used in a statute controls in the absence of clear statutory provisions to the contrary, [citation]; that where there is plain, unambiguous language used in a statute there is no room for construction, and a court may not properly look for and impose another meaning, [citation]; that where legislative intent is discernible a court should give effect to that intent, [citation]; that every law must be presumed to be constitutional, with all reasonable doubt resolved in its favor, [citation]; and that while generally speaking penal statutes are to be strictly construed, they need not be given overnarrow meaning in disregard of the obvious purpose of the legislative body, [citation].' "

See also, Thomson v. Wyoming In-Stream Flow Committee, Wyo., 651 P.2d 778 (1982); Nickelson v. People, Wyo., 607 P.2d 904 (1980); and Washakie County School Dist. No. One v. Herschler, Wyo., 606 P.2d 310 (1980), cert. denied 449 U.S. 824, 101 S.Ct. 86, 66 L.Ed.2d 28.

I

We turn now to a discussion of the first issue of whether § 6-3-124, et seq., supra, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. 4 This court, in discussing the Equal Protection Clause, has held that equal protection does not require exact equality; only arbitrary and invidious discrimination is condemned by the Equal Protection Clause. Cavanagh v. State, Wyo., 505 P.2d 311, 312 (1973). The United States Supreme Court has stated that the Equal Protection Clause announces the fundamental principle that states must govern impartially, and that general rules that apply evenhandedly to all persons within a state unquestionably comply with that principle. Jones v. Helms, 452 U.S. 412, 423, 101 S.Ct. 2434, 2442, 69 L.Ed.2d 118, 128 (1981). Most recently the Supreme Court, in Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 102 S.Ct. 2382, 72 L.Ed.2d 786 (1982), has reviewed its decisions dealing with the Equal Protection Clause and again set out its standards of review:

"The Equal Protection Clause directs that 'all persons similarly circumstanced shall be treated alike.' [Citation.] But so too, 'The Constitution does not require things which are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same.' [Citation.] The initial discretion to determine what is 'different' and what is 'the same' resides in the legislatures of the States. A legislature must have substantial latitude to establish classifications that roughly approximate the nature of the problem perceived, that accommodate competing concerns both public and private, and that account for limitations on the practical ability of the State to remedy every ill. In applying the Equal Protection Clause to most forms of state action, we thus seek only the assurance that the classification at issue bears some fair relationship to a legitimate public purpose.

"But we would not be faithful to our obligations under the Fourteenth Amendment if we applied so deferential a standard to every classification. The Equal Protection Clause was intended as a restriction on state legislative action inconsistent with elemental constitutional premises. Thus we have treated as presumptively invidious those classifications that disadvantage a 'suspect class,' or that impinge upon the exercise of a 'fundamental right.' With respect to such classifications, it is appropriate to enforce the mandate of equal protection by requiring the State to demonstrate that its classification has been precisely tailored to serve a compelling governmental interest. In addition, we have recognized that certain forms of legislative classification, while not facially invidious, nonetheless give rise to recurring constitutional difficulties; in these limited circumstances we have sought the assurance that the classification reflects a reasoned judgment consistent with the ideal of equal protection by inquiring whether it may fairly be viewed as furthering a substantial interest of the State. * * * " (Footnotes omitted.)

In his arguments before both the district court and this court, Laude has contended that § 6-3-124, supra, discriminates against indigents as a class in that only indigents cannot pay an insufficient funds check within ten days of receiving notice of dishonor or nonpayment. He then argues that indigents are a suspect class causing us to employ a strict scrutiny standard of review of any statute that discriminates against indigents as a class. We will deal first with whether the statute discriminates.

A classification for purposes of equal protection analysis can be established several ways. Professors Nowak, Rotunda, and Young suggest three different ways. First, a law may establish a classification on its face requiring no proof of the classification other than the language of the statute itself. Second, a law, which on its face shows no impermissible classification, may be impermissibly applied in varying degrees to different identifiable classes of individuals. When application of a law is at issue, proof beyond the language of the law is required to establish the classification that is challenged. Finally, a law that neither classifies on its face nor is applied unevenly may nonetheless be shown by outside proof to in reality constitute "a device designed to impose different burdens on different classes of persons." Nowak, Rotunda, and Young, Constitutional Law, ch. 16 at 527 (1978). The Supreme Court, as far back as Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220 (1886), recognized that for equal protection purposes impermissible classification can occur either on the face of the statute or in the unequal application of an otherwise valid law. See also, Sunday Lake Iron Company v. Township of Wakefield, 247 U.S. 350, 38 S.Ct. 495, 62 L.Ed. 1154 (1918). From the tenor of the arguments contained in Laude's briefs and from the stage of the proceedings at which the issue was decided below, we conclude that the challenge made here is that § 6-3-124, supra, is invalid on its face. We shall proceed on that basis. We do not know that indigents as...

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