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State v. Nastoff, 124 Idaho 667 - 862 P.2d 1089 (Ct. App. 1993)

Rule:

A definition of "malice" is provided by Idaho Code § 18-101, which states: The following words have in this code the signification attached to them in this section, unless otherwise apparent from the context: (4) The words "malice," and maliciously" import a wish to vex, annoy, or injure another person, or an intent to do a wrongful act, established either by proof or presumption of law. Under that definition, malice may take either of two quite distinct forms; it may constitute (1) a purpose or desire to vex, annoy or injure another; or (2) an intent to do a wrongful act, regardless of the presence or absence of any desire to inflict harm on another.

Facts:

Defendant Nastoff and two associates had been woodcutting in the area near Paddy Flat Summit in Valley County two days before a fire engulfed the property. During fire suppression efforts, a chain saw was found approximately 20 yards from the asserted origin of the fire. The chain saw spark arrester had been removed, and holes had been punched in the muffler cover. These modifications, which were allegedly in violation of I.C. § 38-121, caused the saw to emit carbon when idling. Pursuant to this, Nastoff has been arrested and charged with one felony, malicious injury to property, I.C. § 18-7001; and three misdemeanors, operation of an engine without adequate protection, I.C. § 38-121; firing timber, I.C. § 18-7004; and destruction of timber on state lands, I.C. § 18-7009. During trial, the State asserted that Nastoff's operation of the saw resulted in emission of carbon, which smoldered for two days before igniting the fire; however, the State did not contend that Nastoff intended to start a fire by his operation of the chain saw. Following the decision of the jury, the District Court convicted Nastoff. On appeal, Nastoff argued that the State did not meet its burden of proof to show that he acted maliciously as required by I.C. § 18-7001.

Issue:

In order to establish malice for purposes of criminal liability under Idaho Code § 18-7001, should the “intent to do wrongful act” be ”an intent to injure or destroy property”?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The state appellate court found that by its plain language, § 18-7001 created culpability for malicious injury to property only where the defendant's conduct causing the injury was accompanied by an intent to injure property of another. The Court noted that defendant may have been negligent in operating the chainsaw and that his negligence may have caused the fire. However, the court concluded that the legislature did not intend to punish merely negligent conduct.

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