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State v. Ritts

March 23, 1999

STATE OF WASHINGTON, APPELLANT,
v.
MARK SNOWDEN RITTS, RESPONDENT.



Source of Appeal: Appeal from Superior Court of Whitman County Docket No: 97-1-00084-4 Judgement or order under review Date filed: 02/20/1998 Judge signing: Hon. Wallis Friel

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweeney, J.

Judges: Authored by Dennis J. Sweeney Concurring: John A. Schultheis Frank L. Kurtz

Panel Six

PUBLISHED OPINION

It is a felony to ignore an order or command to stop by a law enforcement officer in a marked police car. The trial court dismissed a charge of attempted felony eluding against Mark Ritts because the police car he attempted to elude was not "marked" with identifying lettering on the doors, although it was equipped with flashing lights and siren. We affirm.

FACTS

The facts are undisputed. About midnight on September 7, 1997, a Whitman County deputy sheriff responded to a crime in progress emergency call. En route to the scene, Deputy Chapman observed Mark Ritts' white pickup the only other vehicle on the road driving away from the scene in the opposite lane. He radioed to Sergeant Kelley, who was following in an unmarked green Ford Bronco, to get the license plate number.

Sergeant Kelley was in police uniform. The Bronco was equipped with alternating high beam and headlights (wig-wags), siren, red and blue strobe lights mounted at the top of the windshield and inside the front grill, and blue and yellow flashers in the rear window. It was not "marked" with lettering or a logo on the doors.

As Sergeant Kelley approached, Mr. Ritts first braked hard, then took off at high speed. Sergeant Kelley turned around and gave chase. After about two miles with Sergeant Kelley driving about 75 yards behind Mr. Ritts, doing about 95 m.p.h., Mr. Ritts and his passenger abandoned the truck in a field and ran. The passenger later admitted he and Mr. Ritts saw the officer behind them, got scared and fled.

Mr. Ritts was charged with attempting to elude a police officer in violation of RCW 46.61.024. It is a class C felony to willfully fail to immediately stop and to drive recklessly after receiving a visual or audible signal to stop from a uniformed police officer whose vehicle is "appropriately marked showing it to be an official police vehicle." RCW 46.61.024.

He moved to dismiss the charge for failure to prove the signal to stop came from a marked police car. The court agreed that Sergeant Kelley's unmarked Bronco did not meet the statutory requirement that the police vehicle be "appropriately marked showing it to be an official police vehicle." Concluding that the State did not prove the elements of RCW 46.61.024, the court dismissed the charge.

DISCUSSION

The dismissal rests on the trial court's construction of RCW 46.61.024. The question presented is whether the flashing lights and siren "appropriately marked" the undercover Bronco as a police vehicle, absent a police logo or lettering on the sides.

Statutory construction involves a question of law which we review de novo. State v. Bright, 129 Wn.2d 257, 265, 916 P.2d 922 (1996); State v. Barajas, 88 Wn. App. 387, 389, 960 P.2d ...


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