State v. Lamb

Decision Date13 September 2011
Docket NumberNos. 39849–4–II,40379–0–II.,s. 39849–4–II
Citation163 Wash.App. 614,262 P.3d 89
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Appellant,v.Kenneth Eugene LAMB, Respondent.
CourtWashington Court of Appeals

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Brian Patrick Wendt, Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Port Angeles, WA, for Appellant.Loren Oakley, Clallam Public Defender, Port Angeles, WA, for Respondent.

PUBLISHED OPINION

QUINN–BRINTNALL, J.

[163 Wash.App. 618] ¶ 1 This case concerns predicate offenses for unlawful firearm possession charges brought against Kenneth Lamb. In 2009, the Clallam County Superior Court allowed Lamb to withdraw a 1991 guilty plea in a juvenile second degree burglary case and vacated the related disposition. The trial court explained that, at the time of his plea, Lamb did not have notice of the 1991 disposition's impact on his Second Amendment rights, even though our State's unlawful possession of a firearm statute did not preclude gun possession by juvenile felony offenders until 1992, a year after Lamb pleaded guilty. Laws of 1992, ch. 205, § 118. The trial court then refused the State's request to amend the charging documents to designate a different predicate offense for the unlawful firearm possession charges and dismissed the firearm charges with prejudice. All of the trial court's decisions were rooted in its subjective belief that allowing the present unlawful firearm possession charges to proceed based on the 1991 juvenile burglary adjudication would be manifestly unjust. The State appeals, alleging that the trial court erred by (1) allowing Lamb to withdraw his 1991 guilty plea, (2) vacating the 1991 burglary disposition, (3) denying the State's pretrial motion to amend the charging information, and (4) dismissing the unlawful firearm possession charges with prejudice.

¶ 2 We hold that the trial court committed an error of law, and consequently abused its discretion, when it allowed Lamb to withdraw his 1991 guilty plea and when it vacated his 1991 plea-based disposition, because the juvenile court did not err by failing to advise Lamb of the then nonexistent collateral consequence of limiting his firearm possession rights. The trial court also improperly denied the State's motion to amend the charging document to allege a different predicate conviction which, if proved, would have prohibited Lamb's firearm possession as a matter of law. Last, we hold that the trial court abused its discretion when it dismissed Lamb's firearm possession charges. We reverse and remand for trial and other proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTS

¶ 3 In September 1986, the State charged Lamb in juvenile court with indecent liberties in violation of former RCW 9A.88.100 (1975), recodified as RCW 9A.44.100 (Laws of 1979, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 244, § 17).1 This charge resulted from an incident involving then 11–year–old Lamb who had sexual contact with a male victim, who was under the age of 14. In August 1987, Lamb pleaded guilty to this charge, and the trial court committed him to the Department of Juvenile Rehabilitation for 8 to 12 weeks.

¶ 4 In April 1991, the State charged then 16–year–old Lamb in juvenile court with second degree burglary, a class B felony, under RCW 9A.52.030. In exchange for a lenient sentence, Lamb pleaded guilty to the burglary charge. On June 5, 1991, Clallam County Juvenile Court accepted the guilty plea and sentenced Lamb to 5 days of detention, 24 hours of community service, 6 months of community supervision, and imposed a $25 fine. No one advised Lamb that he would lose his ability to possess firearms as a result of this adjudication. A year later, the legislature extended the prohibition on possessing certain firearms to juveniles adjudicated of a crime of violence or certain felony offenses. Laws of 1992, ch. 205, § 118 (effective June 11, 1992); State v. Semakula, 88 Wash.App. 719, 722, 946 P.2d 795 (1997), review denied, 134 Wash.2d 1022, 958 P.2d 317 (1998).

¶ 5 Between 1992 and 2000, Lamb committed several misdemeanor offenses. Lamb pleaded guilty to driving a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license and negligent driving. And after pleading not guilty, Lamb was convicted of failing to transfer the title of a motor vehicle and third degree driving with a suspended license.

¶ 6 On June 16, 2009, the State charged Lamb with 3 counts of theft of a firearm, under RCW 9A.56.300(1); 10 counts of second degree unlawful possession of a firearm, under RCW 9.41.040(2)(a)(i); 2 and 1 count of manufacturing marijuana, under RCW 69.50.401.

¶ 7 On July 31, citing JuCR 1.4, CrR 4.2, and CrR 7.8, Lamb moved to withdraw his 1991 burglary guilty plea and vacate the related disposition. On September 23, the trial court held a hearing to consider Lamb's motion. At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony from several witnesses despite the State's objection that the testimony was irrelevant because the legality of the plea-based conviction did not rest on factual findings.

¶ 8 Lamb testified at the hearing that no one informed him during the 1991 plea bargaining process that his juvenile burglary disposition could impact his firearm possession rights. If someone had informed Lamb the impact the adjudication would have on his firearm rights, Lamb stated that he would not have pleaded guilty because his firearm rights are “very important to [him] and he thought the State had a “very weak” burglary case against him. Report of Proceedings (RP) (Sept. 23, 2009) at 18–19. Lamb testified that he first learned of his lost firearm possession rights in 2009 when the State filed the current unlawful firearm possession charges. He testified that he had used guns his entire life, since the age of five or six, for recreational and hunting purposes. And Lamb testified that he had a gun collection his father had given him that he hoped to pass on to his children.

¶ 9 Eugene Lamb, Lamb's father, also testified at the hearing that he advised his son to plead guilty in 1991 because of the proposed lenient sentence. Based on his experience as a law enforcement officer at the Port Townsend Police Department, Eugene Lamb believed that the juvenile court disposition would not impact his son's firearm rights. Eugene Lamb also verified that no one ever informed his son that the burglary disposition would impact his firearm rights.

¶ 10 Mike Crabb, one of Lamb's hunting friends, testified that around 1997, he went with Lamb to purchase a hunting rifle, license, and tag. Crabb testified that, based on his knowledge, Lamb had no problem securing the rifle, license, or tag. Lamb confirmed Crabb's testimony, stating that after submitting his background check paperwork and obtaining approval, he bought a rifle.

¶ 11 Lamb's friend, Darren Hyatt, testified that around 2003, he went on a camping trip with Lamb and another friend. During the trip, they came across a police roadblock set up to investigate “suspicious gunfire.” RP (Sept. 23, 2009) at 13. The officer secured all three passengers, their identification documents (IDs), and a gun that Lamb admitted he had in the car. The officer took the items and “went back to his vehicle, got on his radio[ and] was there ... quite a while.” RP (Sept. 23, 2009) at 13. Hyatt believed that the officer “ran the weapon and everybody's ID” before he returned the gun and identification documents and let them go. RP (Sept. 23, 2009) at 13. Lamb confirmed Hyatt's testimony, stating that he believed the officer was a “federal ... game warden.” RP (Sept. 23, 2009) at 22.

¶ 12 Lamb argued that he did not knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently enter his 1991 guilty plea because he was not informed that the resulting burglary disposition would terminate his firearm possession rights. Although he conceded that, in 1991, the State and trial court did not have a duty to inform him of a consequence that did not then exist, Lamb still claimed that he could not have knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered a plea because he did not understand the consequences of his action. In the alternative, Lamb argued that enforcing the plea created a manifest injustice because the State changed the law after his plea and subsequent interactions with the State and other law enforcement officials led him to believe that he could legally possess firearms.

¶ 13 The trial court initially issued an oral ruling allowing Lamb to withdraw the 1991 burglary guilty plea because it believed that leaving the plea-based disposition in place would create a present day manifest injustice. In part, the trial court believed that Lamb would have qualified for and would have restored his firearm possession rights had he known they were revoked. The trial court stated, “I think it would be a manifest injustice at this point to subject Mr. Lamb to 10 counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm based upon a plea to a single felony when he was 16 years old and had no idea at that time nor any idea since that he was not entitled like all citizens to keep and bear arms.” RP (Sept. 23, 2009) at 53.

¶ 14 On September 30, 2009, the trial court entered formal findings of fact, conclusions of law, and an order granting the withdrawal of the 1991 guilty plea and vacating the related disposition. The trial court findings included that the unlawful possession of firearms statute did not apply to juveniles at the time of Lamb's 1991 plea agreement and disposition and that “ignorance of the law is no defense.” Clerk's Papers (CP) at 11. But the trial court concluded that Lamb would have sought to restore his rights if he had known they had been terminated and that [t]hose rights would have been restored because of the respondent's lack of criminal history subsequent to [the 1991 burglary disposition].” CP at 13. The trial court summarized its ruling as follows:

[Lamb] did not have actual knowledge that [the 1991 burglary disposition] had terminated his right to bear, keep, own, or possess firearms. Despite ignorance of...

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