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State v. Walker

February 3, 1997

STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
KENNETH WALKER, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 95-8-05492-9. Date filed: 01/31/96. Judge signing: Hon. Michael S. Spearman.

Authored by Walter E. Webster. Concurring: William W. Baker, Susan R. Agid.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. -- Kenneth Walker appeals a Disposition order finding him guilty of obstructing. He argues that two police officers unjustifiably tried to effect a Terry stop. But because a witness told those officers that Walker had been involved in a fight, and they observed his bloodied face and muddy clothing, the officers had a well founded suspicion that Walker was connected to criminal activity. Consequently, they were justified in asking Walker to stop so that they could investigate. Furthermore, although the information cited a revised version of obstructing not yet effective at the time police apprehended Walker, the information notified him of all necessary elements of the correct version of the crime. As a result, the information's defect did not deny him due process of law. We affirm.

FACTS

The police dispatcher sent two officers to an apartment complex to respond to a fight in progress. One officer talked with a complex employee. That employee said that Kenneth Walker had been fighting with another person, and that the employee had tried to break it up. Walker had then threatened the employee.

The officers saw Walker one hundred feet away, walking with two women. Walker's clothing was muddy and his face was bloody. The officers asked Walker to come over and talk with them. *fn1 Walker told one officer "Fuck you" and accused him of arresting Walker's mother. He continued to walk away, refusing to stop, swore at the officers numerous times, and attempted to leave the area. *fn2 When the officers attempted to restrain him, he struggled, attempted to break away, and continued to swear at the officers. *fn3 After a one-hour hearing, the court entered findings and Conclusions, finding Walker guilty of Obstructing A Law Enforcement Officer. The court sentenced him to three months community supervision.

Discussion

Investigatory Stop

Walker contends that the police improperly seized him because they forced him to stop without any lawful basis. *fn4 Police officers are permitted to stop a person they suspect of a crime, identify themselves, and ask that person for identification and an explanation of his or her activities. *fn5 Officers can undertake this type of investigation, known as a Terry stop, when they have a well-founded suspicion based on objective facts that the person is connected to actual or potential criminal activity. *fn6 The officer must be able to articulate specific facts, that taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant the intrusion. *fn7 In evaluating a stop's reasonableness, courts consider the totality of the circumstances, including the officer's training and experience, the location, the conduct of the person detained, the officer's purpose, and the degree of intrusion. *fn8 Articulable facts support the police officers' decision in this case to stop Walker for questioning. After being dispatched to investigate a fight in progress, *fn9 one officer spoke with a citizen informant. That informant identified himself by name, and was an employee of the apartment complex: the law presumes that such informants are reliable. *fn10 The informant identified Walker as participating in a fight and threatening him afterwards. The officers then saw Walker with a bloody face and muddy clothing, from which they could infer that the employee's report was accurate. At that point, the police had a well-founded suspicion that Walker was connected with criminal activity. They were justified in undertaking a Terry stop. *fn11 The Information Walker contends that he was never formally charged with the crime of obstructing a public servant. *fn12 The information charged Walker with an amended version of that statute. *fn13 Still, Walker did not challenge the information until after the verdict. As a result, this court determines whether (1) the information stated all the elements of the crime (or whether any language gave the accused notice of the missing elements), and (2) whether the defendant has shown actual prejudice from the defect. *fn14 The two versions are nearly identical:

Every person who . . . (3) (1) A person is guilty of shall knowingly hinder, obstructing a law delay, or obstruct any enforcement officer if the public servant in the person willfully hinders, discharge of his official delays, or obstructs any powers or duties; shall be law enforcement officer in guilty of a misdemeanor. the discharge of his or [Former RCW 9A.76.020(3)]. her official powers or duties.

(3) Obstructing a law enforcement officer is a gross misdemeanor. [RCW 9A.76.020(1), (3)].

A person commits the crime of obstructing a public servant by (1) knowingly, (2) hindering, delaying, or obstructing, (3) any public servant, (4) in the discharge of his official powers or duties. *fn15 Here, the information alleged that Walker willfully hindered, delayed, or obstructed a police officer in the discharge of his official powers or duties. Walker contends that the information did not state all of the elements because it alleged the mens rea of willfully, rather than knowingly. But Washington law equates knowing perpetration with willful perpetration. In this regard, the statute defining culpability equates the two: "[a] requirement that an offense be committed willfully is satisfied if a person acts knowingly with respect to the material elements of the offense, unless a purpose to impose further requirements plainly appears." *fn16 At the very least, the information's use of "willfully" put Walker on notice that he could defend the charge by establishing that he did not act knowingly.

Walker also infers that he was misled because the information cited RCW 9A.76.020(1), rather than former RCW 9A.76.020(3). *fn17 He argues that he was prejudiced because his defense was that he did not lawfully have to provide the officer with any information. *fn18 Over ten years before Walker was charged, our supreme court held former RCW 9A.76.020(1) to be unconstitutional. *fn19 Walker could not be convicted for refusing to give the police information. *fn20 Rather, Walker could only be convicted for conduct that hindered the police officers. *fn21 Consequently, the information's erroneous citation could not affect his defense.

Finally, at oral argument, Walker's counsel re-cast his argument. He essentially argued that Walker was convicted of a crime that did not exist because the legislature's amendment, with which the State charged Walker, was a "new" crime. We reject this analysis. At the time of Walker's conduct, it was a criminal offense to knowingly hinder a public servant in the discharge ...


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