State v. Bash

Decision Date07 November 1996
Docket NumberNo. 63828-4,63828-4
Citation925 P.2d 978,130 Wn.2d 594
CourtWashington Supreme Court
PartiesThe STATE of Washington, Petitioner, v. Edward Dean BASH and Lawrence Edward Delzer, Respondents.

Jeffrey C. Sullivan, Yakima County Prosecutor, Bruce Hanify, Deputy, Yakima, for petitioner.

Kirschenmann, Devin, Fortier & Raber, Kenneth W. Raber, Moore, Thompson & Scott, John S. Moore, Jr., Yakima, for respondents.

MADSEN, Justice.

Respondents Lawrence E. Delzer and Edward D. Bash were charged by information with violating RCW 16.08.100(3), which provides that the owner of a dog which aggressively attacks and causes severe injury or death of a human being is guilty of a class C felony. The trial court concluded that the statute sets forth a strict liability offense but that a defendant may assert as an affirmative defense that he or she neither knew nor should have known that the dog was a potentially dangerous or dangerous dog. We granted discretionary review and reverse, holding that the statute does not define a strict liability crime, but instead requires that the dog's owner either knew or should have known that the dog was a potentially dangerous or dangerous dog.

STATEMENT OF CASE

The State says that it will produce evidence at trial that two pit bulls owned by respondents attacked and killed Mr. Walt Freser, a seventy-five-year-old man, who was sitting in a wheel chair in his back yard, and that the dogs also seriously injured a neighbor, Mr. Herman Miller, when he tried to rescue Mr. Freser.

Respondents' cases were consolidated for trial. Respondents moved for dismissal of the charges because the State failed to allege any mental element of the crime and it appeared the prosecution would proceed on the basis that RCW 16.08.100(3) defines a strict liability crime. Respondents maintained that RCW 16.08.100(3) does not set forth a strict liability offense, and, if it does, it is unconstitutional. The trial court denied the motion to dismiss. The court ruled that the statute sets forth a strict liability offense. The court was troubled by what it perceived to be due process problems attendant with the strict liability nature of the offense, however, and therefore further ruled that the statute would be unconstitutional unless a judicially imposed defense was available to a defendant charged under the statute. Accordingly, the court, drawing by analogy from the "unwitting possession" defense against the strict liability crime of possession of a controlled substance, concluded that respondents would be entitled to assert the defense that they did not know or reasonably should not have known of the potential dangerousness or dangerousness of either or both of the dogs. Clerk's Papers at 4-6. The court reasoned the burden of proving the defense by a preponderance of the evidence would be on the defendant. The court fashioned a jury instruction to this effect.

The State sought discretionary review by this court of that part of the trial court's order creating a defense. The State's motion was granted. Trial court proceedings are stayed pending this court's decision in the case.

ANALYSIS

In 1987, the Legislature enacted a number of statutes concerning the ownership of dogs. Laws of 1987, ch. 94. RCW 16.08.100 is one of those statutes. To place the statute in context, an overview of the 1987 legislation is helpful. In general, the 1987 statutes define potentially dangerous and dangerous dogs, set forth requirements regarding ownership of dangerous dogs, and establish criminal liability under several circumstances.

RCW 16.08.070(1) defines

"Potentially dangerous dog" [as] any dog that when unprovoked: (a) Inflicts bites on a human or a domestic animal either on public or private property, or (b) chases or approaches a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, or any dog with a known propensity, tendency, or disposition to attack unprovoked, to cause injury, or otherwise to threaten the safety of humans or domestic animals.

RCW 16.08.070(2) defines

"Dangerous dog" [as] any dog that according to the records of the appropriate authority, (a) has inflicted severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property, (b) has killed a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner's property, or (c) has been previously found to be potentially dangerous, the owner having received notice of such and the dog again aggressively bites, attacks, or endangers the safety of humans or domestic animals.

" 'Severe injury' means any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery." RCW 16.08.070(3).

Under RCW 16.08.080, it is unlawful to have an unregistered dangerous dog (with an exception for police dogs). A certificate of registration will be issued upon sufficient evidence of a proper enclosure for the dog and $50,000 in liability insurance covering injuries caused by the dog. RCW 16.08.080. A dangerous dog must be properly restrained and muzzled in accordance with RCW 16.08.090(1) when outside its enclosure. Potentially dangerous dogs are not regulated under RCW 16.08, but instead are to be regulated by local, municipal, and county ordinances. RCW 16.08.090(2). Dogs are not to be declared dangerous if the threat, injury, or damage was sustained by a person who either committed a willful trespass or other tort or crime on the owner's premises, or had tormented, abused, or assaulted the dog. RCW 16.08.090(3).

Finally, in addition to providing for criminal liability under RCW 16.08.100(3), RCW 16.08.100 provides for confiscation of a dangerous dog if it is not registered, the owner has failed to secure liability insurance, the dog is not maintained in a proper enclosure, or the dog is not properly restrained while outside the owner's dwelling or the dog's proper enclosure. In these instances, the owner is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. RCW 16.06.100(1). If a dangerous dog of an owner who has a prior conviction under RCW 16.08 attacks or bites a person or domestic animal, the owner is guilty of a class C felony and the dog must be confiscated and humanely destroyed. RCW 16.08.100(2).

The statutory provision at issue in this case is RCW 16.08.100(3), which provides:

The owner of any dog that aggressively attacks and causes severe injury or death of any human, whether the dog has previously been declared potentially dangerous or dangerous, shall be guilty of a class C felony punishable in accordance with RCW 9A.20.021. In addition, the dog shall be immediately confiscated by an animal control authority, placed in quarantine for the proper length of time, and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.

Under RCW 9A.20.021(c), a class C felony is punishable by confinement for five years in a state correctional facility, by a fine of $10,000, or both.

The State maintains, and the trial court agreed, that RCW 16.08.100(3) sets forth a strict liability crime, one having no required mental element. Respondents maintain that the statute does have a mental element, or, at the least, it is ambiguous and should be construed as having a mental element requirement.

Respondents correctly argue that the statute is ambiguous, primarily as a result of the clause "whether the dog has previously been declared potentially dangerous or dangerous." RCW 16.08.100(3). This clause can be read two ways. It can be read to mean "whether or not" the dog has previously been declared potentially dangerous or dangerous, an owner is criminally liable. This is the way in which the trial court construed the statute. The clause can also be read to mean "whether the dog has previously been declared potentially dangerous or whether the dog has been previously declared dangerous," i.e., one or the other. Under this reading, criminal liability would only arise if the dog had previously been classified as either a "potentially dangerous dog" or a "dangerous dog," in accord with the definitions in RCW 16.08.070.

An ambiguous statute is subject to construction. Whatcom County v. City of Bellingham, 128 Wash.2d 537, 546, 909 P.2d 1303 (1996). Where a statute is amenable to more than one interpretation, legislative history and other aids to construction may provide guidance in construing the statute to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. Kadoranian v. Bellingham Police Dep't, 119 Wash.2d 178, 185, 829 P.2d 1061 (1992). The court has frequently looked to final bill reports as part of an inquiry into legislative history. E.g., State v. Silva-Baltazar, 125 Wash.2d 472, 479, 886 P.2d 138 (1994).

The final bill report on SSB 5301, the bill enacted as RCW 16.08, provides some background but no clarification to the legislation. The report indicates that while current law then held dog owners liable for injury a person sustained as a result of a dog bite, the dog owners were not required to establish the ability to pay until after an incident occurred. Some owners refused or were unable to pay damages for injuries suffered. Senate Comm. on Judiciary, House Comm. on Judiciary, Final Bill Report, SSB 5301, 49th Legislature (1987). With regard to RCW 16.08.100(3), the report states "The owner of any dog that causes severe injury or death to any human, irrespective of the dog's previous classification, is guilty of a class C felony and the dog must be quarantined and destroyed." Id.; Clerk's Papers at 137.

Unfortunately, the final bill report does not resolve the ambiguity in the statute. It can be read to say that regardless of any, or no, previous classification, criminal liability arises--a reading consistent with the State's position that RCW 16.08.100(3) sets forth a strict liability crime. Alternatively, because the explanation in the final bill report refers to "the dog's previous classification," it can be read to mean that...

To continue reading

Request your trial
91 cases
  • State v. A.M.
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • September 12, 2019
    ...452, 896 P.2d 57 (1995) ), even though they are "generally disfavored," id. at 363, 5 P.3d 1247 (citing State v. Bash, 130 Wash.2d 594, 606, 925 P.2d 978 (1996) (plurality opinion)).¶ 64 But as the United States Supreme Court held in Lambert and Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S......
  • State v. Christian
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • July 6, 2021
    ...at ascertaining legislative intent. The inquiry begins with the statute's language and legislative history." State v. Bash, 130 Wash.2d 594, 604-05, 610, 925 P.2d 978 (1996) ; see also Blake, 197 Wash.2d at 193, 481 P.3d 521 (confirming that "when the legislature enacts a statute without ex......
  • State v. Vanderburgh
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • June 17, 2021
    ...intoxication requires the choice to consume alcohol and drive, an unquestionably dangerous combination." State v. Bash , 130 Wash.2d 594, 611, 925 P.2d 978 (1996) (plurality opinion).5 11A Washington Practice: Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal 90.08, at 278 (4th ed. 2016).6 Con......
  • Disciplinary Proceeding Against Heard, In re, 12272
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • September 24, 1998
    ...] disregard for the rule of law." As we recently explained, acts of moral turpitude usually involve evil intent. State v. Bash, 130 Wash.2d 594, 607, 925 P.2d 978 (1996). 4 But none was found Moreover "moral turpitude" is vague and overly broad absent at least some nexus to the practice of ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT