State v. Nastoff, 20114

CourtCourt of Appeals of Idaho
Writing for the CourtLANSING; WALTERS, C.J., and PERRY
Citation124 Idaho 667,862 P.2d 1089
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. James P. NASTOFF, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 20114,20114
Decision Date27 October 1993

Randolph E. Farber, Nampa, for appellant.

Larry EchoHawk, Atty. Gen., Douglas A. Werth, Deputy Atty. Gen., Boise, for respondent.


By this appeal we are called upon to determine the state of mind or "mens rea" necessary to establish criminal culpability for malicious injury to property under I.C. § 18-7001. James P. Nastoff appeals from an order withholding judgment upon a jury's verdict finding him guilty of felony malicious injury to property. He challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict, the district court's denial of his motion for acquittal and allegedly improper remarks made by the prosecutor during closing argument. Because we conclude the state did not meet its burden to prove that Nastoff acted "maliciously," as is necessary for conviction under I.C. § 18-7001, we reverse.

This case stems from a five-acre timber fire that burned on state and private land on August 9, 1991, near Paddy Flat Summit in Valley County. In connection with the fire, Nastoff was 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. The felony count was tried separately in district court and is the sole focus of this appeal. Following trial on the felony charge, the misdemeanor counts were dismissed on the state's motion.

At the jury trial, the state introduced the following evidence. Nastoff and two associates had been woodcutting in the area two days prior to the fire. 1 During fire suppression efforts, a chain saw was found approximately twenty yards from the asserted origin of the fire. The saw had been pushed for an unknown distance and run over by a bulldozer before the bulldozer operator observed it. 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. Nastoff admitted that he owned the saw and had been operating it. He indicated to one witness that he knew of the modifications to the saw, though they had been made before he acquired it. The state's theory at trial was that Nastoff's operation of the saw resulted in emission of carbon, which smoldered for two days before igniting the fire. The value of timber destroyed in the fire was established to be over $1,000. The state did not contend that Nastoff intended to start a fire by his operation of the chain saw.

At the close of the state's case-in-chief, Nastoff made an oral motion for acquittal, asserting lack of evidence on both causation and malice. The motion was denied, and the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Nastoff subsequently submitted a motion for judgment of acquittal under I.C.R. 29(c) and a motion for new trial under I.C.R. 34. The motions were based on alleged insufficiency of the evidence to establish that Nastoff burned the timber "maliciously" under I.C. § 18-7001. The motions were denied and this appeal followed.

This case turns upon interpretation of the word "maliciously" as used in I.C. § 18-7001. That section states in part:

Malicious injury to property.--Every person who maliciously injures or destroys any real or personal property not his own, in cases otherwise than such as are specified in this code, is guilty of a misdemeanor, unless the damages caused by a violation of this section exceed one thousand dollars ($1,000) in value, in which case such person is guilty of a felony....

By clear terms of this statute, one may be guilty of the proscribed offense only if the injury to property was carried out "maliciously."

A definition of "malice" is provided by I.C. § 18-101, which states:

18-101 Definition of terms--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.

The state does not contend that Nastoff started the fire to vex, annoy or injure another person but, rather, focuses on the second alternative definition of malice--the "intent to do a wrongful act." Consequently, for our analysis, we also consider only that second definition, which defines "maliciously" to be essentially synonymous with "intentionally." Nastoff urges that because the record is devoid of any evidence that he intended to burn the timber, he cannot be convicted of malicious injury to property under that definition.

The state, however, asserts that Nastoff was acting "maliciously" within the meaning of the statute by intentionally operating the chain saw while knowing it was illegally modified. Nastoff intended the "wrongful act" of operating a chain saw in violation of I.C. § 38-121, says the state, and the intent to perform that act constitutes the requisite malice, as defined by I.C. § 18-101(4). Thus, according to the state, the intent to do any wrongful act will constitute the "malice" supporting a conviction for malicious injury to property. It need not be an intent to damage property, but may be an intent to do some other wrongful act that ultimately (even accidentally) results in injury to property. The state finds support for this argument in the fact that the definition of malice in I.C. § 18-101(4) refers to intent to do a wrongful act, not the wrongful act.

Thus, the issue presented is whether the intent to do a wrongful act that is required to establish malice for purposes of criminal liability under I.C. § 18-7001 must be an intent to injure or destroy property, or whether intent to engage in other wrongful conduct will suffice so long as the conduct ultimately leads to property damage. 2 As the introductory clause of I.C. § 18-101 acknowledges, the definitions given in that section must be utilized with consideration of the contexts within which the defined terms are used in other sections of the penal code. Here, we must apply the I.C. § 18-101(4) definition of "maliciously" in light of the context of its use in I.C. § 18-7001.

In construing a statute, it is our objective to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. George W. Watkins Family v. Messenger, 118 Idaho 537, 539-40, 797 P.2d 1385, 1387-88 (1990); Greenwade v. Idaho State Tax Commission, 119 Idaho 501, 505, 808 P.2d 420, 424 (Ct.App.1991). That intent is ascertained, if possible, from a reading of the statute. The plain meaning of a statute will prevail unless the clearly expressed legislative intent is contrary or unless the plain meaning leads to absurd results. George W. Watkins Family v. Messenger, supra.

Accordingly, to determine the requisite mens rea for a violation of I.C. § 18-7001, we begin our analysis with the language of that statute. Section 18-7001 establishes two components for commission of the crime of malicious injury to property--a culpable act or result (injury to the property of another) and a harmful state of mind (malice). The statute states that one is guilty of the offense who "maliciously injures or destroys ... property...." The use of "maliciously" to modify the verbs "injures or destroys," indicates that the act that must be performed with intent is the injuring or destroying of property. We do not perceive from the plain language of the statute any implication that an intent to do a different wrongful act may be engrafted upon the proscribed conduct of damaging property to provide the requisite malice for criminal liability under I.C. § 18-7001. The words of the statute do not imply a legislative intent to create criminal liability under this section where the injury to property was an unintended consequence of conduct that may have violated some other statute. Hence, we conclude by its plain language, I.C. § 18-7001 creates culpability for malicious injury to property only where the defendant's conduct causing the injury is accompanied by an intent to injure property of another. 3

This conclusion is bolstered by the provisions of I.C. § 18-114 which provides:

In every crime or public offense there must exist a union, or joint operation, of act and intent, or criminal negligence.

Section 18-114 appears to be a legislative adoption of a common law rule that guilt of a crime generally requires a concurrence of the requisite mental fault (whether it be intent,...

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25 cases
  • State v. Byington, 23273
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Idaho
    • 29 Mayo 1998
    ...732 P.2d 336, 338 (Ct.App.1987). A jury may infer intent from the commission of acts and the surrounding circumstances. State v. Nastoff, 124 Idaho 667, 671, 862 P.2d 1089, 1093 (Ct.App.1993). See also I.C. § The trial evidence showed that Byington had a trampoline in his backyard and allow......
  • State v. John (2013-14) Doe, 41161.
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    • 20 Agosto 2014
    ...As used in this section, "maliciously" means an intent to damage property without a lawful excuse for doing so. See State v. Nastoff, 124 Idaho 667, 670, 862 P.2d 1089, 1092 (Ct.App.1993) (holding that culpability for malicious injury to property exists when the defendant's injurious conduc......
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    ...As used in this section, “maliciously” means an intent to damage property without a lawful excuse for doing so. See State v. Nastoff, 124 Idaho 667, 670, 862 P.2d 1089, 1092 (Ct.App.1993) (holding that culpability for malicious injury to property exists when the defendant's injurious conduc......
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