Posted by: Patricia Salkin | February 4, 2019

MN Appeals Court Reverses Misdemeanor Conviction for Keeping Chickens on a Residential Property

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

In February, a Minnesota court reversed the misdemeanor conviction of a residential property owner who was charged with keeping chickens on her property in violation of the county development code. The court held that the citation and complaint were fatally defective because they failed to define any criminal offense or describe any criminal behavior applicable to the defendant’s property, and the district court therefore had no jurisdiction to order her conviction.

As the court explained on appeal, the first code section referenced in the complaint merely defined the term “residential parcel,” but it didn’t actually describe any crime or prohibited conducted, and thus it couldn’t provide the basis for charging the defendant with a misdemeanor for keeping chickens. And while the second code section referenced in the complaint did restrict the keeping of chickens on residential parcels, the defendant’s property was specifically excluded from the definition of a “residential parcel” because it was located in a legally platted subdivision, and the regulations on keeping chickens therefore didn’t apply.

Although not pressed on appeal, the court also mentioned the prosecutor’s trial argument, which was essentially that the keeping of chickens was prohibited even on legally platted subdivisions because it wasn’t a specifically permitted use. The court rejected this argument, emphasizing that the plain language contradicted this interpretation and remarking that “an ordinary citizen would not read this ordinance restricting the keeping of animals on residential parcels and conclude that its express exclusion of legally platted subdivisions is the equivalent of including them.” The most that could be inferred from the language of the ordinance, the court concluded, was that it didn’t apply to legally platted subdivisions.

State v. Thesing, 2019 WL 418624 (Minn. App. unpub. 2/4/19).

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