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State v. Sanders

May 23, 1997

THE STATE OF WASHINGTON, RESPONDENT,
v.
AARON LEE SANDERS, APPELLANT.



Appeal from Superior Court of Cowlitz County. Docket No: 95-1-00042-5. Date filed: 06/27/95. Judge signing: Hon. Milton R. Cox.

Authored by J. Robin Hunt. Concurring: J. Dean Morgan, Carroll C. Bridgewater.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hunt

HUNT, J. -- Aaron Lee Sanders was convicted of offering a forged document for filing at a public office in violation of RCW 40.16.030. Sanders argues that: (1) The trial court erred in not admitting testimony offered to prove that the forged document was not "materially false;" and (2) the trial court erred in omitting "material falsity" from the jury instructions as an element of the crime. We affirm.

FACTS

The facts of this case are not in dispute. On December 23, 1994, Sanders brought a motion to modify his child support payments. Issuing an oral ruling, the Cowlitz County Superior Court trial Judge temporarily reduced Sanders' child support obligation for two months and set the case for review in February 1995. Sanders later presented the Judge with written "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law." The findings and Conclusions were signed by both the Judge and by Julie Rabideau, Sanders' ex-wife. The Judge did not enter a new or amended "Order of Child Support" at that time.

On January 23, 1995, Sanders presented an "Order of Child Support" to a superior court deputy clerk and requested that a trial Judge sign the order. Sanders told the clerk that Rabideau had agreed to and had signed the order. The clerk suspected that Rabideau's purported signature was a forgery. The clerk contacted Rabideau, who stated that she had never signed the order. Sanders was charged with knowingly offering a forged instrument for filing in a public office in violation of RCW 40.16.030.

Before the trial began, the State moved to preclude the original trial court Judge from testifying and to exclude all evidence offered to prove that the forged order was fairly consistent with the findings and Conclusions. The State argued that the only issue was whether Sanders knowingly offered a forged instrument for filing in a public office, and that all other evidence concerning the forged order was irrelevant. Sanders argued that because the forged order was consistent with the findings and Conclusions, the order was not "materially false." He argued that such evidence was relevant to prove that he lacked intent to commit the crime.

The trial court ruled that evidence of the "material falsity" of the order was irrelevant because such evidence did not relieve Sanders of the crime as charged. The trial court determined that the State needed to prove only that Sanders knowingly offered a forged document for filing in a public office. The trial court ruled that: (1) The findings and Conclusions would not be admitted as evidence; (2) the issuing trial court Judge would not be allowed to testify; and (3) both Sanders and the State were precluded from eliciting testimony or presenting evidence related to the "material falsity" of the forged order.

The jury instructions required the State to prove only that Sanders offered a forged document for filing in a public office. Sanders did not object to the instructions, nor did Sanders present alternate instructions.

ANALYSIS

The issue here is whether a violation of RCW 40.16.030 requires the State to prove that a forged document offered for filing in a public office was "materially false." RCW 40.16.030 provides:

Every person who shall knowingly procure or offer any false or forged instrument to be filed, registered, or recorded in any public office, which instrument, if genuine, might be filed, registered or recorded in such office under any law of this state or of the United States, shall be punished by imprisonment in a state correctional facility for not more than five years, or by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars, or by both.

I. Material Falsity.

Sanders argues that the trial court erred in refusing to admit evidence offered to prove that the forged order was consistent with the issuing court's findings and Conclusions, and therefore, not "materially false." Sanders argues that the evidence was relevant because under RCW 40.16.030, the State had to prove ...


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