Attempted lawn mower thief takes case to Wash. Supreme Court over 'motor vehicle' language

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Washington state's highest court has decided a riding lawn mower is not a motor vehicle when it comes to theft. 

The October decision dealt with the state's theft of a motor vehicle statute.

The court ruled in an appeal of a case involving the attempted theft of a riding lawn mower from a home outside Leavenworth in 2015. 

According to the state Supreme Court’s filed opinion, a homeowner heard her lawn mower start up, looked out a window and saw a man trying to ride the mower up a ramp and into the bed of a pickup truck. 

The man, after he was arrested, took issue with the charge of theft of a motor vehicle, arguing the definition didn’t include riding lawn mowers. 

The definition of motor vehicle, in plain language “taken on its face,” seemed to lend weight to the notion that a riding lawn mower was, by its definition, a motor vehicle: “self-propelled” and ‘“capable of being moved upon a public highway”…while carrying people or cargo.’

According to the filed decision, a superior court then noted the requirement of the court to take into account the context of the statute and determine the legislature’s intent. 

This brought the court to question whether it should "always follow the plain meaning principle" or, in fact, follow an obligation to "ascertain and carry out the intent of the legislature."

"Intention" more refers to the spirit of the legislation.

Taken into review was the original statute, wherein many times the term "motor vehicle" is used alongside terms "car," "auto" and "auto theft," bringing them into direct relation. 

It was determined the bill tasked itself with reducing the rising rate of auto thefts, citing a connection between auto thefts and other crimes like drug possession, identity theft and gang activity. 

The Supreme Court's opinion states: “There is nothing to indicate a connection between the theft of lawn mowers and drug possession or gang activity.”

Hence, the high court's decision: A riding lawn mower is not a motor vehicle when it comes to theft. 

The case will be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. 

Read the entire filed opinion here.


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