State v. Trowbridge, 11514

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Citation97 Idaho 93,540 P.2d 278
Docket NumberNo. 11514,11514
PartiesSTATE of Idaho, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. William TROWBRIDGE, Defedant-Appellant.
Decision Date31 July 1975

Severt Swenson, Jr., of Becker, Swenson & Shaw, Gooding, for defendant-appellant.

W. Anthony Park, Atty. Gen., Jake Peterson, Asst. Atty. Gen., Boise, for plaintiff-respondent.

McQUADE, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of conviction entered following a jury determination of guilt. We reverse and remand for a new trial.

Appellant, William Trowbridge, was convicted of receiving stolen property in violation of I.C. § 18-4612. 1 Four unbranded range calves were brought to appellant's farm by his brother, James Trowbridge. 2 James Trowbridge was then employed as a range rider, having started work some two to three weeks prior to the commission of this alleged offense. James Trowbridgewas to tend the 2400 to 2600 head of cattle which were ranged in common by the Star Lake Cattlemen's Association.

At trial James Trowbridge testified that when he started to work for the association, the cattle had been left unattended for several weeks and were scattered. Some calves were not 'mothered-up.' He told several of the ranchers about this confused situation, but nothing resulted. Finally, he took four calves to appellant's farm where they were fed, doctored and pastured. Appellant testified that he did not hide the calves, brand them, or hold them for sale. Appellant was found guilty, a judgment of conviction was entered, and he was sentenced to three years' maximum imprisonment with the trial court retaining 120 days' withheld jurisdiction.

On appeal, appellant urges three assignments of error: (1) The trial court erred in instructing the jury that a presumption of guilt arises from the possession of recently stolen property; (2) the evidence was insufficient to sustain the verdict; and (3) alleged non-responsive answers by a State's witness tending to impune appellant's character and reputation and infer participation in other acts of misconduct were improperly admitted into evidence.

We hold the trial court erred in instructing the jury that a presumption of guilt arises when the defendant is found in possession of recently stolen property and reverse the judgment of conviction for that reason. Because of our disposition of this case, we find it necessary to discuss only appellant's first and third assignments of error.

The trial, court charged the jury with seventeen instructions, including the contested instruction:

'Instruction No. 9

You are instructed that unless possession of recently stolen property is satisfactorily explained there arises a presumption of guilt.'

Appellant maintains that the instant instruction erroneously shifts the burden of proof from the State to the defendant, as to guilty knowledge or belief and felonious intent to exercise ownership over the property, once the State proves possession. This, he maintains, unconstitutionally infringes upon the presumption of innocence accorded under the process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. If, as may have happened in the instant case, a jury instruction lessens the State's burden of proof so that an accused can be convicted without proof beyond a reasonable doubt of all elements of the offense, then the conviction must be reversed as inconsistent with that constitutionally protected presumption of innocence. 3

Jury instructions denominating the principle that a presumption of guilt arises from the possession of recently stolen property have been sanctioned by this Court. Originally, the Court phrased this principle in terms of a 'permissive inference' whereby the possession of recently stolen property was a circumstance from which, when unexplained, the guilt of the accused may be inferred. 4 Later decisions of this Court for the most part abandoned this permissive inference theory and have, instead, held that a presumption of guilt arises from the unexplained possession of recently stolen property. 5 This presumption has been applied in prosecutions for larceny and burglary. We are now asked to extend the use of this presumption and accompanying instruction to prosecutions for another crime of a larcenous nature, that of receiving stolen property. We decline to sanction the use of this conclusion in the form of presumption, as set out by the trial court, in cases dealing with the receipt of stolen property.

Scienter is necessary for conviction of receiving stolen property. The mere possession of recently stolen property cannot give rise to a legal presumption of 'guilty' knowledge or belief, and the accompanying felonious intent, needed for conviction for the receipt of stolen property. 6 Our position is supported by decisions from Nevada 7 and Oklahoma 8 which have held as unconstitutional, statutory presumptions of guilt arising from the unsatisfactorily explained possession of recently stolen property. Those decisions analyzed the tested presumption under the 'rational connection' test announced by the United States Supreme Court in Tot v. United States, 9 and subscribed to by that Court in more recent cases dealing with violations of federal liquor 10 and narcotics 11 laws. Tot held that if a statutory presumption is to be sustained, a rational connection must exist between the proven fact and the presumed fact:

'(T)he due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments set limits upon the power of Congress or that of a state legislature to make the proof of one fact or group of facts evidence of the existence of the ultimate fact on which guilt is predicated. . . .

Under our decisions, a statutory presumption cannot be sustained if there be no rational connection between the fact proved and the ultimate fact presumed, if the inference of the one from proof of the other is arbitrary because of lack of connection between the two in common experience. . . . (W)here the inference is so strained as not to have a reasonable relationship to the circumstances of life as we know them, it is not competent for the legislature to create it as a rule governing the procedure of courts.' 12

In a recent case addressing the validity of a jury instruction somewhat akin to the instant instruction, the United States Supreme Court summarized the holdings of Tot and its progeny, which had dealt with statutory presumptions and/or inferences:

'To the extent that the 'rational connection,' 'more likely than not,' and 'reasonable doubt' standards bear ambiguous relationships to one another, the ambiguity is traceable in large part to variations in language and focus rather than to difference of substance. What has been established by the cases, however, is at least this: that if a statutory inference submitted to the jury as sufficient to support conviction satisfied the reasonable-doubt standard (that is, the evidence necessary to invoke the inference is sufficient for a rational juror to find the inferred fact beyond a reasonable doubt) as well as the more-likely-than-not standard, then it clearly accords with due process.' Barnes v. United States. 13

We must also agree with Barnes, that the courts, too, are bound by due process in establishing rules of evidence: 'Common-law inferences, like their statutory counterparts, must satisfy due process in light of present-day experience.' Id. 14 Our task is to determine if the instant presumption, allowing the jury to legally presume an ultimate fact, which is one of the elements of the crime to be proved by the State beyond a reasonable doubt (knowledge or belief), from the proof of another fact (possession), affords due process, be that analysis labeled the 'rational connection' test or 'reasonable doubt' standard.

There is insufficient connection between the proved fact of possession of recently stolen property and the ultimate fact of guilty knowledge or belief-or of felonious intent to deprive of ownership-to justify a jury instruction in prosecutions for receiving stolen property that a presumption of guilt arises from the unsatisfactorily explained possession of recently stolen property. However, we do believe that in prosecutions for receipt of stolen property, the trial court may instruct a jury that the unsatisfactorily explained possession of recently stolen property is a circumstance tending to infer knowledge of the unlawful character of the property, and that circumstance taken together with a necessary quantum of other incriminating evidence, may be used by the jury to reach a verdict, in light of their collective common experience, and the circumstances surrounding the case. 15

Appellant argues that the trial court erred in refusing to strike a portion of the following testimony offered by State's witness Sheriff Brown on cross-examination:

'Q. If they (the calves) were in the barn, is there any way you could observe them through an open door or anything of this nature?

A. No, not without going on his property.

Q. Did you go on his property and make a search after this arrest?

A. Yes.

Q. Did you find other calves or anything of this nature?

A. Yes. We found other calves. Yes, we found some and some disappeared down the road about seven miles or so.

Q. I ask that be stricken. I don't think it is responsive to the question.'

Appellant maintains Brown deliberately interjected a response beyond the scope of defense counsel's cross-examination in an attempt to accuse appellant of similar acts of misconduct. While we cannot attempt to divine Sheriff Brown's motives, we cannot agree with the State that Brown's answer was merely responsive to defense counsel's questioning. Counsel's question pertained to Brown's search of appellant's property, and in particular, to the pen and barn area where the calves were kept. We believe Brown's statement prejudically inferred that appellant was involved in similar larcenous acts. The trial court should have sustained counsel's ...

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10 cases
  • State v. Owens, 12272
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • October 18, 1979 give the second paragraph, is the singular fact that both paragraphs were set forth in a footnote to State v. Trowbridge, 97 Idaho 93, 97 n.15, 540 P.2d 278, 282 n.15 (1975). In that case this Court considered a case where defendant was charged not with stealing, but with receiving stole......
  • State v. Williams
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Idaho
    • September 21, 1982
    ...stating that a person in possession of stolen property was presumed guilty of knowingly receiving such property. State v. Trowbridge, 97 Idaho 93, 540 P.2d 278 (1975). The Trowbridge opinion noted, with apparent disapproval, a prior drift in Idaho from upholding instructions on permissive i......
  • Fortson v. State, 82S04-0811-CR-592.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • January 21, 2010
    ...facie evidence of larceny, robbery, [or] receiving stolen property ....") (citation omitted) (emphasis in original); State v. Trowbridge, 97 Idaho 93, 540 P.2d 278, 281 (1975) ("Scienter is necessary for conviction of receiving stolen property [and][t]he mere possession of recently stolen p......
  • State v. Fuchs, 12582
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Idaho
    • July 5, 1979
    ...a reasonable doubt as to his guilt. These laws have recently been scrutinized and are not favored by the courts. See State v. Trowbridge, 97 Idaho 93, 540 P.2d 278 (1975); State v. Wagenius, 99 Idaho 273, 581 P.2d 319 (1978). Such questions are not involved in the case at bar. Whatever infl......
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