Argued: October 18, 2018
Circuit Court-Salem District Division
J. MacDonald, attorney general (Stephen D. Fuller, senior
assistant attorney general, on the memorandum of law, and
Elizabeth C. Woodcock, assistant attorney general, orally),
for the State.
Randall Baldwin Clark, of Hollis, on the brief and orally,
for the defendant.
defendant, Jeffrey R. Keenan, appeals his conviction in the
Circuit Court (Stephen, J.) for driving a motor
vehicle while his vehicle registration privileges were
suspended, in violation of RSA 261:178 (2014). Because the
defendant's conviction was based upon his lawful
operation of a vehicle owned and registered to his son, we
following facts have been gleaned from the record and are not
disputed. On January 25, 2017, the New Hampshire Department
of Safety (DOS) suspended the defendant's operating
privileges. On January 31, DOS suspended the
defendant's registration due to a lack of insurance.
Between these two dates, the defendant purchased an operator
insurance policy and presented evidence of this coverage by
way of an "SR-22" certificate to DOS.As a result, DOS
restored the defendant's operating privileges. The notice
DOS issued to the defendant explicitly stated that "All
license/operating privileges are hereby restored. Your
registration remains suspended." (Capitalization
August 31, the defendant pulled out of his driveway and was
promptly stopped by a Salem police officer who observed that
the vehicle driven by the defendant was uninspected. During
the stop, the officer ran a computer check on the
defendant's license and learned that the defendant's
registration was suspended. The officer also checked the
registration number of the vehicle and learned that the
vehicle was registered to Jake Keenan, who was subsequently
identified as the defendant's son. Nonetheless, the
officer issued a summons to the defendant charging him with
operating a vehicle while his registration privileges were
suspended in violation of RSA 261:178.
trial, the parties did not dispute the relevant facts - (1)
the defendant's operating privileges were restored and in
good standing on the date of the motor vehicle stop; (2) at
that time, the defendant's registration remained
suspended; and (3) the defendant was operating a vehicle,
owned and properly registered in his son's name. Thus,
the only dispute at trial was whether the defendant's act
of driving a vehicle lawfully registered to another person
while his registration was suspended constituted a violation
of RSA 261:178.
their arguments at trial, the parties focused on the last
clause of RSA 261:178, which states: "any person who
shall drive or permit to be driven a vehicle owned or
controlled by him upon any way after his registration has
been suspended or revoked shall be guilty of a
misdemeanor." The State argued that the statute
prohibits any person with a suspended registration from
driving any vehicle, regardless of whether the vehicle is
registered to another person, in part, because the word
"controlled" as it appears in the statute is
synonymous with "driven." The defendant countered
that "controlled" does not mean "driven"
but instead refers to circumstances where a person treats a
vehicle as his own but does not legally own it. Based on this
meaning of "controlled," the defendant argued that
the State failed to prove that he owned or controlled the
vehicle he was driving when the officer stopped him.
trial court found that the defendant "drove a vehicle
controlled by him, on a way, after his registration was
suspended" and entered a finding of guilty. In reaching
this conclusion, the trial court reviewed the defendant's
registration suspension and determined that the suspension
was tied to him personally rather than to a specific vehicle.
Based on this determination, the trial court concluded that
the "legislative intent" was to prohibit him from
"driving any vehicle until he gets that straightened
out." The defendant appeals his conviction arguing
solely that the trial court rested its decision upon an
erroneous interpretation of RSA 261:178.
the purely legal issue now before us requires that we engage
in statutory interpretation. The interpretation of a statute
presents a question of law, which we review de novo.
STIHL, Inc. v. State of N.H., 168 N.H. 332, 334 (2015).
In matters of statutory interpretation, we are the final
arbiters of the legislature's intent as expressed in the
words of the statute considered as a whole. Id. When
construing its meaning, we first examine the language found
in the statute, and where possible, we ascribe the plain and
ordinary meanings to the words used. Id. When
statutory language is ambiguous, however, we will consider
legislative history and examine the statute's overall
objective and presume that the legislature would not pass an
act that would lead to an absurd or illogical result.
Id. at 334-35. We interpret statutory provisions in
the context of the overall statutory scheme, id. at
335, and construe all parts of a statute together to
effectuate its overall purpose and avoid absurd or unjust
results. State v. Fogg, 170 N.H. 234, 236 (2017). We
apply the same principles of construction when interpreting
administrative rules. State v. Villeneuve, 160 N.H.
342, 347 (2010).
appeal, the defendant argues that the trial court erroneously
treated "controlled" as a synonym for the term
"drive," which constitutes an illogical
interpretation of the statute. The State argues, as it did to
the trial court, that the statute prohibits any person with a
suspended registration from driving any vehicle. Although the
parties and the trial court attempted to determine the
meaning of RSA 261:178 by focusing their inquiry on the last
clause of the statute, we construe all parts of the statute
together to effectuate its overall purpose, even if the
parties do not address it. See Fogg, 170 N.H. at
236. Accordingly, we consider all of the relevant language
set forth in RSA 261:178, which states:
Suspension of Registration of Vehicle. The
director, upon evidence satisfactory to him that the owner of
a vehicle is permitting or has permitted the same to be
driven in violation of any of the provisions of this title .
. . may suspend the registration of such vehicle until [the
director] is satisfied that the offense will not be repeated
or the owner has been acquitted, and any person who shall
drive or permit to be driven a vehicle owned or controlled by