State v. Quinn, No. 94-675

Docket NºNo. 94-675
Citation675 A.2d 1336, 165 Vt. 136
Case DateMarch 22, 1996
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Vermont

Page 1336

675 A.2d 1336
165 Vt. 136
STATE of Vermont
v.
Matthew S. QUINN.
No. 94-675.
Supreme Court of Vermont.
March 22, 1996.

[165 Vt. 137] Dan M. Davis, Windham County State's Attorney, and James Maxwell, Deputy State's Attorney, Brattleboro, for plaintiff-appellant.

Robert Appel, Defender General, and William A. Nelson, Appellate Attorney, Montpelier, for defendant-appellee.

Before ALLEN, C.J., and GIBSON, DOOLEY, MORSE and JOHNSON, JJ.

DOOLEY, Justice.

Defendant was charged with possession of a destructive device, a homemade pipebomb filled with smokeless gunpowder, in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 1604. The trial court dismissed the charge, concluding that because the device was made with gunpowder, it fell within an exception to the crime set forth in 13 V.S.A. § 1603(2). The State appeals the trial court's ruling. We reverse.

The facts are not in dispute. On July 23, 1994, the state police received a call from a custodian of Bellows Falls Union High School, who told the police that he had found a pipebomb on the school's front doorsteps. The pipebomb was seven inches in length and one inch in diameter. It was made out of smokeless gunpowder from shotgun shells, paper, and a hollow metal broom handle capped with wax. A witness had observed two boys running away from the front entrance of the school, and then saw a smoking object on the front school doorsteps. Although smoke emanated from the pipebomb, it did not explode. A trooper questioned defendant Matthew Quinn, who admitted making the pipebomb, but denied that he intended to destroy property or endanger other people. He told the officer that he sought only to make a noise, like that of a

Page 1337

firecracker. On July 28, 1994, the State charged defendant with possession of a destructive device in violation of 13 V.S.A. § 1604, a felony that imposes a maximum sentence of ten years.

[165 Vt. 138] The sole issue on appeal 1 is whether a pipebomb made of smokeless gunpowder is a "destructive device" pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 1604, which states: "A person who manufactures, possesses, stores or transports a destructive device ... shall be imprisoned for not more than 10 years...." The term "destructive device" is defined in § 1603(1)(A) to include any "explosive ... bomb." The State alleges that the device defendant placed on the schoolhouse doorstep fits within the definition and, therefore, defendant possessed a destructive device.

Defendant responds that because the explosive ingredient of the pipebomb is smokeless gunpowder it is not a destructive device as defined in 13 V.S.A. § 1603(1)(A). First, § 1603(1) states that "A destructive device does not include a firearm or ammunition therefor." Second, the term "explosive," a component part of the definition of destructive device, is itself defined to exclude "a firearm or ammunition therefor or any components of ammunition for a firearm including primers, smokeless powder or black gunpowder." From these statutory provisions, defendant argues that the plain meaning of the statutory scheme is that a bomb made from smokeless gunpowder is not a destructive device and, therefore, he did not violate § 1604. The trial court accepted defendant's argument and dismissed the case.

The outcome of this case depends upon how we construe 13 V.S.A. §§ 1603(1)(A), 1603(2) and 1604. On the one hand, we do not want to substitute a general definition of "explosive" for a specific definition supplied by the Legislature. See In re Spring Brook Farm Found., Inc., 164 Vt. 282, ----, 671 A.2d 315, 320 (1995). On the other hand, we must be careful not to import definitions from inapplicable statutes. See Secretary v. Handy Family Enters., 163 Vt. 476, ----, 660 A.2d 309, 314 (1995). Although we have adopted a number of aids to determine the proper construction of statutes, they are not rigid rules. See Board of Trustees of Kellogg-Hubbard Library v. Labor Relations Bd., 162 Vt. 571, 575, 649 A.2d 784, 786 (1994). Overall, our aim is to implement the intent of the Legislature to the extent we can determine it. See State v. Therrien, 161 Vt. 26, 31, 633 A.2d 272, 275 (1993).

In this case, defendant relies upon what he perceives to be the "plain meaning" of the words of the statute. Even if we agreed that [165 Vt. 139] the plain meaning rule is hard and fast, we cannot conclude that it applies here. Defendant's main argument is that the term "explosive," as defined ins 1603(2), is a component part of the definition of "destructive device," as set forth in § 1603(1)(A), and that an explosive, as so defined, cannot be made of smokeless gunpowder. We note, however, that the term "explosive" is defined as a noun in § 1603(2) but...

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9 practice notes
  • State v. Morris, No. 94-299
    • United States
    • March 22, 1996
    ...broad privacy rights, we must acknowledge that we cannot stretch constitutional language to regulate every law enforcement tool. [165 Vt. 136] I strongly agree with the creation of an independent state constitutional jurisprudence that keeps essential decisions about protected liberties as ......
  • Civetti v. Turner, No. 19-036
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 3, 2020
    ...by unambiguous statutory language, but the clear text of the statute does not support such a baffling result. See State v. Quinn, 165 Vt. 136, 140, 675 A.2d 1336, 1338 (1996) ("[W]e must avoid construing statutory language in a way that produces an irrational result.").¶ 31. We no......
  • Civetti v. Turner, No. 2019-036
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 3, 2020
    ...by unambiguous statutory language, but the clear text of the statute does not support such a baffling result. See State v. Quinn, 165 Vt. 136, 140, 675 A.2d 1336, 1338 (1996) ("[W]e must avoid construing statutory language in a way that produces an irrational result."). ¶ 31. We n......
  • P.S., In re, No. 96-208
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • August 8, 1997
    ...from commitment with no means of enforcing its terms. We will not construe the statutes in such an irrational fashion. See State v. Quinn, 165 Vt. 136, 140, 675 A.2d 1336, 1338 We do not believe that our decision in In re R.A., 146 Vt. 289, 501 A.2d 743 (1985), requires a different result. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
9 cases
  • State v. Morris, No. 94-299
    • United States
    • March 22, 1996
    ...broad privacy rights, we must acknowledge that we cannot stretch constitutional language to regulate every law enforcement tool. [165 Vt. 136] I strongly agree with the creation of an independent state constitutional jurisprudence that keeps essential decisions about protected liberties as ......
  • Civetti v. Turner, No. 19-036
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 3, 2020
    ...by unambiguous statutory language, but the clear text of the statute does not support such a baffling result. See State v. Quinn, 165 Vt. 136, 140, 675 A.2d 1336, 1338 (1996) ("[W]e must avoid construing statutory language in a way that produces an irrational result.").¶ 31. We no......
  • Civetti v. Turner, No. 2019-036
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • April 3, 2020
    ...by unambiguous statutory language, but the clear text of the statute does not support such a baffling result. See State v. Quinn, 165 Vt. 136, 140, 675 A.2d 1336, 1338 (1996) ("[W]e must avoid construing statutory language in a way that produces an irrational result."). ¶ 31. We n......
  • P.S., In re, No. 96-208
    • United States
    • Vermont United States State Supreme Court of Vermont
    • August 8, 1997
    ...from commitment with no means of enforcing its terms. We will not construe the statutes in such an irrational fashion. See State v. Quinn, 165 Vt. 136, 140, 675 A.2d 1336, 1338 We do not believe that our decision in In re R.A., 146 Vt. 289, 501 A.2d 743 (1985), requires a different result. ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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