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TUCKER v. U.S.

May 4, 1998

FIONNE X. TUCKER, APPELLANT,
V.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE SUPERIOR COURT, RAFAEL DIAZ, J. [708 A2d Page 646]

Before Schwelb and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge:

Fionne X. Tucker was convicted at a bench trial of several weapons offenses *fn1 after officers of the United States Park Police recovered ammunition from Tucker's person and a loaded pistol under the passenger seat of an automobile in which Tucker was riding. On appeal, Tucker contends that the trial judge should have granted his pretrial motion to suppress tangible evidence. He claims, inter alia, that the Motor Vehicle Tinted Window Amendment Act of 1994 (TWA), D.C.Code § 40-718.1 (Supp. 1997), unconstitutionally discriminates on account of wealth. Because the pistol and ammunition were the fruits of the officers' stop of the vehicle for an alleged violation of the TWA, Tucker argues that their seizure was unlawful and that the evidence relating to them should have been suppressed. We affirm. *fn1

I.

The TWA makes it unlawful to operate or park a motor vehicle on a public street or space in the District if the vehicle has "[a] front windshield or front side windows that allow less than 70% light transmittance," or "[a] rear windshield or rear side windows that allow less than 50% light transmittance." D.C.Code § 40-718.1(a). The statute contains the following exemptions:

(h) Limousines, ambulances, buses and hearses, meeting the requirements of 18 DCMR 413.10, church-owned vehicles, and all official government vehicles, shall be exempt from the requirements of this section.

(i) Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to modify or affect any federal law concerning the window tinting of motor vehicles that is applicable to manufacturers, importers, dealers, or motor vehicle [708 A2d Page 647]

repair businesses for new or used motor vehicles and equipment. *fn2

Tucker asserts that the "classification exempting expensive cars from tint prohibitions" constitutes an irrational "disparity based on wealth," in violation of equal protection *fn3 and due process principles.

To sustain his claim of unconstitutionality, Tucker must carry a heavy burden. "Every possible presumption is in favor of the validity of a statute, and this continues until the contrary is shown beyond a reasonable doubt." Hornstein v. Barry, 560 A.2d 530, 533 n. 5 (D.C. 1989) (en banc) (citation omitted). If the repugnancy between the law and the Constitution is not manifest, a court "usurps legislative functions where it presumes to judge a law void." Id. at 533 (citation omitted).

Where a statutory classification is alleged to contravene equal protection principles, and where, as here, the statute does not implicate a fundamental right or a suspect class, *fn4 we must assess its validity pursuant to a "rational basis" standard. Sandoe v. Lefta Assocs., 559 A.2d 732, 736 (D.C. 1988). Under that standard, a statute is constitutionally valid so long as the challenged classification is rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose. Western & Southern Life Ins. Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization of Cal., 451 U.S. 648, 657, 101 S.Ct. 2070, 2077, 68 L.Ed.2d 514 (1981). A statutory classification "will not be set aside if any set of facts reasonably may be conceived to justify it." McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420, 426, 81 S.Ct. 1101, 1105, 6 L.Ed.2d 393 (1961). The party challenging the constitutionality of such a classification must make "'a clear showing of arbitrariness and irrationality,'" Kadrmas v. Dickinson Pub. Schs., 487 U.S. 450, 462, 108 S.Ct. 2481, 2490, 101 L.Ed.2d 399 (1988) (quoting Hodel v. Indiana, 452 U.S. 314, 331-32, 101 S.Ct. 2376, 2387, 69 L.Ed.2d 40 (1981)), and must "negat[e] every conceivable basis which might support it." FCC v. Beach Communications, Inc., 508 U.S. 307, 315, 113 S.Ct. 2096, 2102, 124 L.Ed.2d 211 (1993) (quoting Lehnhausen v. Lake Shore Auto Parts Co., 410 U.S. 356, 364, 93 S.Ct. 1001, 1006, 35 L.Ed.2d 351 (1973)).

Where the validity of a statute is considered under the rational basis standard, the government is not obliged to place in the [708 A2d Page 648]

legislative record any evidence supporting a challenged classification. Steffan v. Perry, 309 U.S.App. D.C. 281, 294, 41 F.3d 677, 690 (1994) (en banc). "[B]ecause we never require a legislature to articulate its reasons for enacting a statute, it is entirely irrelevant for constitutional purposes whether the conceived reason for the challenged distinction actually motivated the legislature." Beach Communications, Inc., supra, 508 U.S. at 315, 113 S.Ct. at 2102 (citation omitted). The absence of "on the record" legislative facts "has no significance in rational-basis analysis." Id. (citations omitted). A legislative choice is "not subject to courtroom factfinding." Id. Indeed, the legislature may properly act on the basis of "rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data." Id. (citations omitted). "Only by faithful adherence to this guiding principle of judicial review of legislation is it possible to preserve to the legislative branch its rightful independence and its ability to function." Id. (quoting Carmichael v. Southern Coal & Coke Co., 301 U.S. 495, 510, 57 S.Ct. 868, 872-73, 81 L.Ed. 1245 (1937)).

Finally, the Supreme Court has held that state and local governments may implement their regulatory programs "step by step" and may enact legislation that "only partially ameliorate[s] a perceived evil and defer[s] complete elimination of the evil to future regulations." New Orleans v. Dukes, 427 U.S. 297, 303, 96 S.Ct. 2513, 2517, 49 L.Ed.2d 511 (1976) (per curiam) (citing Williamson v. Lee Optical, 348 U.S. 483, 488-89, 75 S.Ct. 461, 464-65, 99 L.Ed. 563 (1955)). "A classification does not fail rational-basis review because 'it is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.'" Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 321, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 2643, 125 L.Ed.2d 257 (1993) (quoting Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 1161, 25 L.Ed.2d 491 (1970)). "Defining the class of persons subject to a regulatory requirement . . . inevitably requires that some persons who have an almost equally strong claim to favored treatment be placed on different sides of the line, and the fact [that] the line might have been drawn differently at some points is a matter for legislative, rather than judicial, consideration." Beach Communications, Inc., supra, 508 U.S. at 315-16, 113 S.Ct. at 2102 (alteration in original) ...


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