State v. Garfield

Decision Date20 January 2015
Docket Number31502-9-III
CourtWashington Court of Appeals


Fearing, J.

A jury convicted Benjamin Garfield of one count of possession of a stolen firearm. On appeal, Garfield argues that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he knowingly possessed a stolen firearm. We agree. We reverse the conviction and direct the trial court to dismiss the charge.


The State of Washington accused Benjamin Garfield of possessing a stolen .30-06 Eddy Stone rifle. In November 2008, Grant County residents James and Kathleen Lecocq reported the theft of tools and guns, including the Eddy Stone rifle from their home. The State has never identified the thief.

In 2010 or 2011, Benjamin Garfield purchased a .30-06 Eddy Stone rifle from a Hispanic man at the Quik Stop in Quincy Washington. Garfield first overheard the man unsuccessfully attempt to sell the rifle to three other men dressed in camouflage clothing. He approached the man and expressed interest in purchasing the rifle, after which the man took Garfield to his car and showed him the rifle in his trunk. The man told Garfield that he wished to sell the rifle for gas money to drive to Mexico. Garfield, then age 19, paid the man between $120 and $140 for the rifle.

On September 11, 2012, Benjamin Garfield pawned the Eddy Stone rifle for $75 to the Olde World Trading Company pawnshop in Ephrata. Garfield had previously pawned the same rifle to the Moses Lake Olde World Trading Company. When pawning the rifle in Ephrata, Garfield provided an Olde World employee with his full name, physical information, date of birth, driver's license number, a description of the rifle, and his current address. As required for any pawn transaction, Olde World Trading Company forwarded the rifle's serial number and description to the Ephrata Police Department. The serial number matched the Eddy Stone rifle stolen from the Lecocq residence.

The Ephrata Police Department determined that the Eddy Stone rifle was one of the guns reported stolen by James and Kathleen Lecocq in November 2008. Grant County Sheriff Deputy Michael Earney contacted Benjamin Garfield at his residence near George, in rural Grant County. Garfield explained to Earney that he bought the gun several years earlier from a man who needed money for gas, and Garfield volunteered that he did not know the gun was stolen. Earney considered Garfield "more than cooperative" and Garfield agreed to speak with a detective. Report of Proceedings (RP) at 185. Garfield rode with Deputy Earney to the Ephrata police station for more questioning.

At the station, Benjamin Garfield repeated his story to Detective Todd Hufman, with whom he spoke for 36 minutes. Garfield again denied knowing the Eddy Stone rifle to be stolen. Garfield told Hufman that a Department of Fish and Wildlife agent investigated the gun's background during Garfield's hunting trip to Colockum Pass in November 2009. Garfield stated he was "pretty certain" the agent concluded the gun was not stolen. RP at 221. Later Garfield told Hufman he was only 70 to 75 percent sure that the agent researched the status of the .30-06 rifle.

Fish and Wildlife game warden Chad McGary testified at trial about a November 2009 encounter with Benjamin Garfield at Colockum Pass. McGary stopped the vehicle in which Garfield traveled to check to see if any gun inside the vehicle was loaded. McGary could not remember if he checked the status of the Eddy Stone rifle, although he routinely checks on all firearms he encounters on patrol. He could not remember ever seeing any Eddy Stone rifle on a hunter. If his research finds a gun to be stolen, registered to someone else, or involved in a legal violation, he issues a citation and generates a report. Agent McGary created a report from his encounter with Garfield, not because he discovered a stolen weapon, but because he cited Garfield for possession of marijuana and use of drug paraphernalia. The trial court granted Garfield's motion in limine to exclude the drag-related information from trial.


The State of Washington charged Benjamin Garfield with one count of possession of a stolen firearm in violation of RCW 9A.56.310, a class B felony. During closing argument, the State pointed to Benjamin Garfield's inconsistent statements regarding the review of the Eddy Stone rifle by the game warden and Garfield's inability to identify the year he purchased the gun. In his closing statement, Garfield explained that the events occurred years before and his misremembering of details is not evidence that he knew the gun was stolen.

The jury found Benjamin Garfield guilty.


RCW 9A.56.310, under which the State charged Benjamin Garfield reads, in relevant part:

(1) A person is guilty of possessing a stolen firearm if he or she possesses, carries, delivers, sells, or is in control of a stolen firearm.
(4) The definition of "possessing stolen property" and the defense allowed against the prosecution for possessing stolen property under RCW 9A.56.140 shall apply to the crime of possessing a stolen firearm.

RCW 9A.56.140 provides, in turn;

(1) "Possessing stolen property" means knowingly to receive, retain, possess, conceal, or dispose of stolen property knowing that it has been stolen and to withhold or appropriate the same to the use of any person other than the true owner or person entitled thereto.
(2) The fact that the person who stole the property has not been convicted, apprehended, or identified is not a defense to a charge of possessing stolen property.

Under the modern criminal code, the crime of possession of stolen property is separated from theft and is found in RCW 9A.56.140 through .170. There is no theft component to the crime and it is no longer categorized as larceny. State v. Hawkins, 157 Wn.App. 739, 749, 238 P.3d 1226 (2010). The essence of the crime is possession of stolen property knowing it to be stolen. RCW 9A.56.140(1). The State need not prove actual knowledge. It is satisfactory to show the accused knew facts sufficient to put him on notice that the property was stolen. State v. Rockett, 6 Wn.App 399, 402, 493 P.2d 321 (1972); State v. Rye, 2 Wn.App. 920, 471 P.2d 96 (1970).

Benjamin Garfield contends the State failed to prove knowledge. To resolve this contention we review principles of sufficiency of evidence and case law of possession of stolen personal property.

Evidence is sufficient if, after viewing it in the light most favorable to the State, a rational trier of fact could find each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Green, 94 Wn.2d 216, 221-22, 616 P.2d 628 (1980); see also State v. Witherspoon, 180 Wn.2d 875, 883, 329 P.3d 888 (2014). A defendant challenging sufficiency of the evidence at trial admits the truth of the State's evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom. Witherspoon, 180 Wn.2d at 883. This court defers to the fact finder's determination of the persuasiveness of the evidence. State v. Davis, 176 Wn.App. 849, 861, 315 P.3d 1105 (2013), rev'd on other grounds, No. 89448-5, slip op. (Wash. Dec. 24, 2014). A verdict may be supported by either circumstantial or direct evidence, as both may be equally reliable. State v. Brooks, 45 Wn. App, 824, 826, 727 P.2d 988 (1986).

A jury may draw inferences from evidence so long as those inferences are rationally related to the proven facts. State v. Jackson, 112 Wn.2d 867, 875, 774 P.2d 1211 (1989). A rational connection must exist between the initial fact proven and the further fact presumed. Jackson, 112 Wn.2d at 875. An inference should not arise when other reasonable conclusions follow from the circumstances. State v. Bencivenga, 137 Wn.2d 703, 711, 974 P.2d 832 (1999). The jury may infer from one fact the existence of another essential to guilt, if reason and experience support the inference. Tot v. United States, 319 U.S. 463, 467, 63 S.Ct. 1241, 87 L.Ed. 1519 (1943). Nevertheless, essential proofs of guilt cannot be supplied by a pyramiding of inferences. State v. Bencivenga, 137 Wn.2d at 711; State v. Weaver, 60 Wn.2d 87, 89, 371 P.2d 1006 (1962).

Benjamin Garfield argues a jury could not reasonably infer that he had actual or constructive knowledge that the rifle was stolen for numerous reasons: (1) the Lecocqs reported the theft several years before he pawned the rifle; (2) the State presented no evidence that Garfield was familiar with the location of the theft; (3) the price at which he purchased the rifle was not unreasonably low; and (4) the State introduced no direct evidence of "guilty knowledge" on his part. The State responds that the jury could reasonably infer that the circumstances under which Garfield purchased the rifle put him on constructive notice that the rifle was stolen. Those circumstances include: (1) Garfield's purchase of the rifle from a man at a gas station, (2) the seller retrieving the gun from the trunk of the car, (3) Garfield's lack of a receipt for the purchase of the rifle, and (4) Garfield's revision of answers he gave the Ephrata police. The State does not identify purchasing the gun from a Hispanic man wanting gas money for a trip to Mexico as a relevant circumstance. Nor does the State rely on the age of Benjamin Garfield.

Washington case law assists in determining what facts are rationally related to a finding of constructive knowledge of stolen goods. Mere possession of stolen property is not enough to justify a conviction. State v. Couet, 71 Wn.2d 773 775, 430 P.2d 974 (1967); State v. Withers, 8 Wn.App. 123, 128, 504 P.2d 1151 (1972). If a defendant possesses recently stolen property, usually from a few hours to a few months, slight corroborative evidence...

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