Court of Appeals Division I
State of Washington
Opinion Information Sheet
Docket Number: 64149-2
Title of Case: State Of Washington, Respondent V. James Flora, Appellant
File Date: 03/14/2011
SOURCE OF APPEAL
Appeal from Skagit Superior Court
Docket No: 08-1-00304-2
Judgment or order under review
Date filed: 08/28/2009
Judge signing: Honorable Susan K Cook
Authored by Mary Kay Becker
Concurring: Michael S. Spearman
COUNSEL OF RECORD
Counsel for Appellant(s)
Washington Appellate Project
Attorney at Law
1511 Third Avenue
Seattle, WA, 98101
Elaine L Winters
Washington Appellate Project
1511 3rd Ave Ste 701
Seattle, WA, 98101-3635
Counsel for Respondent(s)
Paul William Jay Nielsen
Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney
605 S 3rd St
Mount Vernon, WA, 98273-3867
Attorney at Law
Skagit Co Prosc Atty Ofc
605 S 3rd St
Mount Vernon, WA, 98273-3867
IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON
STATE OF WASHINGTON, )
) No. 64149-2-I
) DIVISION ONE
JAMES C. FLORA, ) PUBLISHED OPINION
Appellant. ) FILED: March 14, 2011
Becker, J. -- The offense of attempting to elude a police officer requires
proof that the defendant acted "willfully." This term must be defined in jury
instructions upon request because it has a technical meaning in the context of
the eluding statute. Without a definitional instruction, appellant James Flora
lacked legal support for his legitimate theory that the vehicle he was accused of
willfully eluding was not recognizable as a police vehicle. Because the error was
not harmless, we reverse.
The only witness at trial was Officer Martin Radley of the Swinomish
Police Department. He testified that on a rainy night in December 2007, he was
in a line of vehicles driving west on State Route 20. As they approached an
intersection, the light turned red. One of the cars ahead of Officer Radley, a
white Camaro, ended up in the right turn lane after making what the officer
described as a "panic" stop. The officer pulled up behind the Camaro without
activating his police lights. When the light turned green, the Camaro drove
forward out of the turn lane, crossed the intersection, and stopped on the right
shoulder. Officer Radley followed and stopped behind the Camaro. The driver
got out and approached aggressively with fists clenched. Officer Radley, who
was at least partially out of his car by this time, commanded that the driver get
back in his car. The driver got back in the car and drove off quickly, at a speed
estimated by the officer to be 70 miles per hour. The zone was marked for 55.
Officer Radley turned on his sirens and emergency lights and pursued.
Within a mile, the Camaro turned left through a red light and pulled into a
parking lot. The driver ran off. Officer Radley, who decided to wait for the light
to turn green, did not apprehend the driver at this time but was later able to
identify him from a photograph as James Flora. This incident led to the
conviction from which this appeal is taken.
To commit the offense of attempting to elude, the driver must act
Any driver of a motor vehicle who willfully fails or refuses to
immediately bring his or her vehicle to a stop and who drives his or
her vehicle in a reckless manner while attempting to elude a
pursuing police vehicle, after being given a visual or audible signal
to bring the vehicle to a stop, shall be guilty of a class C felony.
The signal given by the police officer may be by hand, voice,
emergency light, or siren. The officer giving such a signal shall be
in uniform and the vehicle shall be equipped with lights and sirens.
Flora asked the court to give the jury a definition of "willfully" that would
equate the term with "knowingly," based on RCW 9A.08.010(4). That statute
A requirement that an offense be committed wilfully is satisfied if a
person acts knowingly with respect to the material elements of the
offense, unless a purpose to impose further requirements plainly
Flora requested the pattern instruction based on that statute: "A person acts
willfully [as to a particular fact] when he or she acts knowingly [as to that fact]."
11 Washington Practice: Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal 10.05,
at 214 (3d ed. 2008).
The pattern jury instruction for the offense of attempting to elude does
not suggest any definition for "willfully." See 11A Washington Practice:
Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal 94.02, at 332 (3d ed. 2008). For
this reason, and also because the cases Flora cited predated a significant
amendment to the statute in 2003, the trial court declined to give a definitional
"Parties are entitled to instructions that, when taken as a whole, properly
instruct the jury on the applicable law, are not misleading, and allow each party
the opportunity to argue their theory of the case." State v. Redmond, 150 Wn.2d
489, 493, 78 P.3d 1001 (2003). The State now concedes that the statutory
reference to "willingly" does implicate knowledge and that the requested
instruction was a correct statement of the law that should have been given.
We accept this concession. The term "willfully" has many meanings. In
the context of the eluding statute, it is an element. The statute "requires that the
defendant wilfully fail and refuse to stop his vehicle while attempting to elude a
pursuing police vehicle. Willfulness in this context is identical with knowledge."
State v. Mather, 28 Wn. App. 700, 702, 626 P.2d 44 (1981). Because the term
has a particular meaning, it should be defined for the jury upon request by a
party. See State v. Allen, 101 Wn.2d 355, 358-62, 678 P.2d 798 (1984).
Without a definition, the jury is left to come up with its own understanding of a
technical term for a culpable mental state. Allen, 101 Wn.2d at 362.
A trial court's failure to define a technical term may be harmless error.
Det. of Pouncy, 168 Wn.2d 382, 391, 229 P.3d 678 (2010). "A harmless error is
an error which is trivial, or formal, or merely academic, and was not prejudicial to
the substantial rights of the party assigning it, and in no way affected the final
outcome of the case." State v. Britton, 27 Wn.2d 336, 341, 178 P.2d 341 (1947).
The State contends the omission of a definition of "willingly" was harmless
error. This contention is based upon a misunderstanding of the statute defining
the offense of attempting to elude. As the State reads the statute, "willfully"
pertains only to the requirement that the driver refuses to stop after being given
a visual or audible signal. With this interpretation in mind, the State contends it
needed to prove that Flora knew he was being signaled to stop, but not that he
knew the pursuing vehicle was a police vehicle. Because it is undisputed that
Officer Radley had his emergency lights and siren turned on for almost a mile
while pursuing Flora, no reasonable jury could have found that Flora was
unaware that he was being signaled to stop.
The first sentence of the statute is admittedly somewhat difficult to parse.
Nevertheless, we have on several occasions interpreted it as requiring
knowledge by the driver that there is "a pursuing police vehicle." State v.
Trowbridge, 49 Wn. App. 360, 363, 742 P.2d 1254 (1987), citing State v.
Stayton, 39 Wn. App. 46, 49, 691 P.2d 596 (1984); see also Mather, 28 Wn.
App. at 702. As explicitly stated in Stayton, "we do agree with the Mather court's
conclusion that one element of the statutory crime is knowledge that the
pursuing vehicle is a police vehicle." Stayton, 39 Wn. App. at 49. The State
contends, however, that as a result of an amendment in 2003, the defendant's
knowledge that the pursuing vehicle is a police vehicle is no longer an "implicit
element" that the State must prove and is instead now part of an affirmative
The new affirmative defense places upon the defendant the burden of
proving that a "reasonable person" would not believe the signal to stop was
given by a police officer:
It is an affirmative defense to this section which must be
established by a preponderance of the evidence that: (a) A
reasonable person would not believe that the signal to stop was
given by a police officer; and (b) driving after the signal to stop was
reasonable under the circumstances.
The State fails to explain how the availability of the affirmative defense
eliminates the State's burden to prove the elements set forth in RCW
46.61.024(1). The 2003 amendment did not alter the elements of the offense in
any way relevant to this appeal. The statute still requires, just as it did before
2003, that the defendant "willfully" fails to stop while attempting to elude a
pursuing police vehicle. As explained in Stayton, there can be no attempt to
elude unless there is the prerequisite knowledge that there is a pursuing police
vehicle. Stayton, 39 Wn. App. at 49. In other words, the driver must not only
know that he is being signaled to stop but must also know that the pursuing
vehicle is a police vehicle.
There was evidence to support Flora's theory that he did not know the
vehicle chasing him was a police vehicle. It was dark and rainy. The license
plate was not a Washington plate. Photographs of the vehicle were admitted
showing that the police markings on Officer Radley's car are only on the sides.
There was a female passenger in the car, a civilian who was participating in a
Flora argued that willful meant knowing: "And to go back to the
instructions, the instructions talk about being willful and attempting to elude a
pursuing police vehicle. . . . Mr. Flora has to know that there's an officer giving
him a signal and know the officer is pursuing him." But he did not have an
instruction defining "willfully" to support his argument. "A jury should not have to
obtain its instruction on the law from arguments of counsel." State v. Aumick,
126 Wn.2d 422, 431, 894 P.2d 1325 (1995). The absence of an instruction on
"willfully" may have affected the verdict. Accordingly, we remand for a new trial
in which the jury will be instructed on the definition of "willfully."
As an alternative route to reversal, Flora contends counsel was ineffective
for failing to assert the statutory affirmative defense. Failure to request an
instruction on a potential defense can constitute ineffective assistance of
counsel. In re Pers. Restraint of Hubert, 138 Wn. App. 924, 929, 158 P.3d 1282
(2007). But if the defendant would not have received a proposed instruction,
counsel's performance was not deficient. State v. Powell, 150 Wn. App. 139,
154, 206 P.3d 703 (2009). The defendant would likely not have received an
instruction based on RCW 46.61.024(2) because there was insufficient evidence
to prove it was reasonable under the circumstances for Flora to turn left across a
red light while traveling at a high rate of speed. Flora does not address this
prong of the affirmative defense and fails to argue that it was likely to succeed
even if the jury had been instructed on it.
The civilian who was riding along with Officer Radley was not called as a
witness. Flora asked for a "missing witness" instruction. A missing witness
instruction tells the jury that it may draw an inference that the testimony of the
missing witness would have been unfavorable to the party in the case. State v.
Davis, 73 Wn.2d 271, 276, 438 P.2d 185 (1968). Flora assigns error to the trial
court's refusal to give the instruction. We review for abuse of discretion. See
State v. Montgomery, 163 Wn.2d 577, 601, 183 P.3d 267 (2008).
One of the prerequisites for a missing witness instruction is that the
witness is either within the control of the adverse party or is "peculiarly" available
to that party. Montgomery, 163 Wn.2d at 598-99. As the trial court determined,
the witness did not fit this description. "If she was an undersheriff or employee,
a party, law enforcement officer, something like that, that would be another
matter. This is a civilian witness just like any other civilian witness not under the
control of or peculiarly available to the State." We find no abuse of discretion.
The State initially charged Flora with two counts of attempting to elude a
pursuing police vehicle. The court severed the two counts to avoid prejudice.
The second count was based on a separate incident on January 16, 2009.
Coincidentally, the second incident also involved Officer Radley. When Officer
Radley apprehended Flora in this later incident, Flora asked him if he was the
same officer, driving the same vehicle, who had chased him before.
At trial in the present matter, the court allowed Officer Radley to testify
that Flora had asked him this question, over Flora's objection that the testimony
was irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial. We review for abuse of discretion. State
v. Castellanos, 132 Wn.2d 94, 97, 935 P.2d 1353 (1997).
The evidence was undoubtedly relevant. If Flora recognized Officer
Radley and his police car from the encounter on State Route 20 on December
27, 2007, it would tend to show that Flora knew he was being pursued by a
police officer during that earlier encounter. The risk of any unfair prejudice was
minimized because Officer Radley was not permitted to testify that the second
encounter also led to a criminal charge or to give further details about it. In
addition, the State stipulated to the fact that Flora had met with his attorney and
reviewed the police reports before January 16, 2009. This allowed Flora to
argue that when he asked Officer Radley on that date if he was the same officer
who chased him before, it was as a result of looking at police reports rather than
remembering him from the incident in December 2007. We find no abuse of
In a pro se statement of additional grounds for review under RAP 10.10,
Flora asks that Officer Radley's testimony be rejected as incredible. The
credibility of Officer Radley's testimony was for the jury to decide, not this court.
State v. Camarillo, 115 Wn.2d 60, 71, 794 P.2d 850 (1990). And we perceive no
grounds for further review in Flora's allegation that defense counsel was
ineffective in cross-examining Officer Radley.