Law School Case Brief
State v. Pinkham - 2 Wash. App. 2d 411, 409 P.3d 1103 (2018)
The legislature has the inherent power to prohibit and punish any act as a crime. The legislature's authority to define crimes is extremely broad and is almost plenary.
Petitioner Glen Pinkham was charged in the Yakima County District Court with one count of possession of a loaded rifle in a vehicle in violation of RCW 77.15.460(1) after being seen field dressing an elk by a wildlife officer. The complaint charging the crime alleged that he “knowingly” committed the offense. The case proceeded to jury trial; the officer was the sole witness. Despite the knowledge element alleged in the charging document, the district court, over defense objection, gave the State's proposed “to convict” instruction that did not include a knowledge element. The jury convicted as charged. The superior court affirmed on appeal. The Washington appellate court granted discretionary review to resolve the mental state question.
Did the legislature intend that prosecution of the offense of possessing a loaded weapon in a vehicle require proof of a particular mental state, such as knowledge?
Factors weigh in favor of treating this safety regulation as a strict liability offense. There are limited circumstances where hunting from a vehicle is even permitted and no circumstances have been identified that would require that a loaded weapon be kept in the vehicle to facilitate hunting. The harm of an accidental discharge justifies the legislative prohibition on loaded rifles or shotguns in a vehicle. There is no need to impute a mental state to protect innocent behavior. It would be incongruous to hold that a knowledge element is required when a hunting weapon is placed in a vehicle, but no such element is necessary when placing a loaded pistol in the vehicle. We conclude that our construction of that statute in the first State v. Anderson, 141 Wn.2d 357, 5 P.3d 1247 (2000) case as a strict liability offense is consistent with our construction of the loaded rifle statute. Both operate as public welfare regulations for which the legislature did not intend to include a mental state.
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