Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District, State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Kathryn A. Sticklen, District Judge; Hon. Theresa Gardunia, Magistrate.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gutierrez, Judge
District court's intermediate appellate decision affirming the magistrate's denial of motion to dismiss possession of marijuana and paraphernalia charges, affirmed.
Cary William White appeals from the district court's intermediate appellate decision affirming the magistrate's denial of his motion to dismiss the possession of marijuana and paraphernalia charges against him. Specifically, he contends the district court erred in affirming the magistrate's rejection of his argument that his right to religious freedom under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article 1, § 4 of the Idaho Constitution, and the Idaho Free Exercise of Religion Protected Act (FERPA), Idaho Code §§ 73-401 et seq., was violated by the controlled substances statutes. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
In June 2007, White was stopped by a Boise City police officer because a headlight on his vehicle was out. During the stop, the officer noticed a pill bottle containing a green leafy substance in plain view between the driver's seat and the center console. When questioned, White admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day from a pipe, found under his seat. He was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, I.C. § 37-2732(c), and possession of drug paraphernalia, I.C. § 37-2734A.
White pled not guilty and filed a motion to dismiss the charges based on the contention that Idaho Code §§ 37-2732(c) and 37-2734A violate or substantially burden his right to religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article 1, § 4 of the Idaho Constitution, and the FERPA. After a hearing and consideration of White's affidavit and testimony as to his use of marijuana and religious beliefs, the magistrate denied the motion. White entered a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to appeal the denial of his motion to dismiss. He appealed to the district court, which affirmed the magistrate. White appeals from the district court's decision.
White contends the district court erred in affirming the magistrate's denial of his motion to dismiss on the basis that the controlled substances statutes under which he was charged violate his right to religious freedom as guaranteed by the federal and state constitutions and the FERPA. On review of a decision of the district court, rendered in its appellate capacity, we review the decision of the district court directly. State v. DeWitt, 145 Idaho 709, 711, 184 P.3d 215, 217 (Ct. App. 2008). We examine the magistrate record to determine whether there is substantial and competent evidence to support the magistrate's findings of fact and whether the magistrate's conclusions of law follow from those findings. Id. If those findings are so supported and the conclusions follow therefrom and if the district court affirmed the magistrate's decision, we affirm the district court's decision as a matter of procedure. Id. White advances his claims under both the federal and state constitutions, as well as the FERPA; however, we need only address his FERPA claim.*fn1
The operative provision of the FERPA, I.C. §§ 73-401, et seq., states, in relevant part:
73-402. Free exercise of religion protected.
(1) Free exercise of religion is a fundamental right that applies in this state, even if laws, rules or other government actions are facially neutral.
(2) Except as provided in subsection (3) of this section, government shall not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
(3) Government may substantially burden a person's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is both:
(a) Essential to further a compelling governmental interest;
(b) The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
(5) In this section, the term "substantially burden" is intended solely to ensure that this chapter is not triggered by trivial, technical or de minimus infractions.
Additionally, the Act provides the following definitions in Idaho Code § 73-401:
(1) "Demonstrates" means meets the burdens of going forward with evidence, and persuasion under the standard of clear and convincing evidence.
(2) "Exercise of religion" means the ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.
(5) "Substantially burden" means to inhibit or curtail religiously motivated practices.
This Court exercises free review over the application and construction of statutes. State v. Reyes, 139 Idaho 502, 505, 80 P.3d 1103, 1106 (Ct. App. 2003). Where the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, this Court must give effect to the statute as written, without engaging in statutory construction. State v. Burnight, 132 Idaho 654, 659, 978 P.2d 214, 219 (1999); State v. Escobar, 134 Idaho 387, 389, 3 P.3d 65, 67 (Ct. App. 2000). The language of the statute is to be given its plain, obvious, and rational meaning. Burnight, 132 Idaho at 659, 978 P.2d at 219. If the language is clear and unambiguous, there is no occasion for the court to resort to legislative history, or rules of statutory interpretation. Escobar, 134 Idaho at 389, 3 P.3d at 67. When this Court must engage in statutory construction because an ambiguity exists, it has the duty to ascertain the legislative intent and give effect to that intent. State v. Beard, 135 Idaho 641, 646, 22 P.3d 116, 121 (Ct. App. 2001). To ascertain such intent, not only must the literal words of the statute be examined, but also the context of those words, the public policy behind the statute and its legislative history. Id. It is incumbent upon a court to give an ambiguous statute an interpretation which will not render it a nullity. Id. Constructions of an ambiguous statute that would lead to an absurd result are disfavored. State v. Doe, 140 Idaho 271, 275, 92 P.3d 521, 525 (2004).
While Idaho has little case law interpreting the FERPA, the legislative history of the statute makes it clear that in adopting the statute the Idaho legislature intended to adopt the "compelling interest test" contained in its federal counterpart, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which the United States Supreme Court held, in City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507, 536 (1997), was invalid as it applied to states. Statement of Legislative Intent, 2000 Idaho Sess. Laws 352.*fn2 Thus, the Ninth Circuit's ...