Washington’s Legislature will be busy during its next session but should make time to fix a glitch in the state’s theft law.
That glitch led to a divided state Supreme Court ruling last week, with justices wrestling over snowmobiles and lawn mowers. While providing some comic relief, the court has better uses for its time.
The issue is whether the state’s motor-vehicle theft law applies to snowmobiles. They are clearly motor vehicles that transport people, even on highways when conditions are right.
But there is enough ambiguity in the law that the state Court of Appeals last year overturned a theft conviction of Julia Tucker. She and an accomplice broke into a cabin near Stampede Pass in February 2016 and took a snowmobile.
A jury found Tucker guilty of criminal trespass and motor-vehicle theft.
Tucker appealed the theft conviction, a felony, arguing snowmobiles aren’t motor vehicles.
Finally, after four years, a 5-4 Supreme Court majority decided snowmobiles are indeed motor vehicles and affirmed Tucker’s conviction.
Taxpayers also lost, because of the time, expense and court congestion involved. Tucker had the right to appeal, but Washington’s law should be clearer.
The ruling was authored by Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud with a dissent penned by Justice Barbara Madsen. It turns partly on a previous doozy — a 3-3-3 court decision in 2017 on lawn mowers.
Thankfully, the majority appears to think mowers are primarily for cutting grass and snowmobiles are primarily for transportation.
To prevent a recurrence, legislators should add a few words to the theft law’s definition of motor vehicles.
State Rep. John Lovick, a former sheriff and state patrol officer who sponsored the theft law in 2007, said he’ll make the snowmobile fix a priority next session. He noted the FBI considers snowmobile theft to be theft of a motor vehicle.
“When we were writing the bill, we didn’t even think of a snowmobile,” the Mill Creek Democrat told this editorial board.
There are more important questions for the courts and Legislature so, yes, make this a quick fix.
When it comes to motor-vehicle theft, snowmobiles count, lawn mowers do not.