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State v. St. Clare

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

March 27, 2017

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
KATHRYN ANNE ST. CLARE, Appellant

          SPEARMAN, J.

         Kathryn Anne St. Clare appeals her conviction often counts of first degree cruelty to animals. She contends that the "to convict" instruction misstated and lowered the State's burden of proof. She also contends that the trial court committed reversible error in failing to give a unanimity instruction. Finding no error, we affirm.

         FACTS

         In the spring and summer of 2014, Snohomish County animal control officers responded to reports that animals were confined in inhumane conditions in a trailer belonging to St. Clare. The officers visited several times and observed conditions from outside the trailer. It was evident that St. Clare kept numerous cats in the trailer and when St. Clare was not home the cats were locked inside. On some visits, conditions appeared adequate and the cats did not seem distressed. On other visits, more cats were visible, they appeared ill and distressed, and conditions appeared unsanitary.

         Animal control officers searched the trailer pursuant to a warrant on July 11, 2014. They found 111 cats. The condition of individual cats varied, but as a group, the cats were malnourished and dehydrated. Many of the cats had lost hair and teeth. The feline leukemia virus, which is highly contagious, appeared to have spread throughout the group. After examination, a veterinarian made the decision to euthanize all of the cats.

         St. Clare was charged with ten counts of first degree cruelty to animals under RCW 16.52.205(2), each count based on a separate cat. At trial, the State's witnesses testified to the condition of the cats. Linda Beilfus, a neighbor who had reported the trailer to animal control, testified that when she visited in early July the trailer was parked in the sun. Through the windows, she could see many cats confined inside. The cats were panting, listless, and appeared to be starving. No food or water was visible.

         An animal control officer, Angela Rench, testified that when she contacted St. Clare in June, there were 40 to 60 cats inside the trailer. The cats were lethargic and many were emaciated. The trailer was parked in the sun. It appeared that the cats had no food or water.

         Rench and other animal control officers testified to the search of the trailer on July 11. The officers stated that the trailer was very hot, it smelled overwhelmingly of cat urine, and the floor was covered in feces. The cats were panting and lethargic. There was no food or water in the trailer. The officers made a video recording of the search. The officers testified that they impounded the trailer and transported it to an animal shelter. At the shelter, the officers removed the cats one by one for examination by a veterinarian.

         The veterinarian, Lisa Thompson, testified that she examined each of the 111 cats. The cats were malnourished and dehydrated to varying degrees. Thompson stated that the number of underweight cats in the group indicated that adequate food had not been provided. She testified that the number of dehydrated cats indicated that the cats either had no access to water for a significant period of time or only received water intermittently. Thompson also testified to the conditions of the individual cats listed in the charges. Photos of the individual cats and the video from the search of the trailer were admitted into evidence.

         The jury convicted St. Clare as charged. She appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         St. Clare asserts that the trial court erred because the "to convict" instruction was inadequate. The State contends that the instruction accurately states the law and that St. Clare may not challenge the instruction for the first time on appeal.

         Jury instructions are generally adequate if, when read as a whole, they "'properly inform the jury of the applicable law.'" State v. Mills, 154 Wn.2d 1, 7, 109 P.3d 415 (2005) (quoting State v. Clausing, 147 Wn.2d 620, 626, 56 P.3d 550 (2002)). The adequacy of instructions is a question of law that this court reviews de novo. Id. (citing State v. DeRvke, 149 Wn.2d 906, 910, 73 P.3d 1000 (2003)). Because the State has the burden of proving each element of the crime charged, an adequate "to convict" instruction must state each element of the crime. State v. Fisher, 165 Wn.2d 727, 753, 202 P.3d 937 (2009) (citing Mills, 154 Wn.2d at 7). The elements of the crime usually consist of the actus reus, mens rea, and causation. Id., at 754. (citing Blacks law Dictionary 559 (8th ed.2004)).

         In general, a party may not raise an error for the first time on appeal. RAP 2.5(a). The policy underlying this rule is to encourage the parties to point out, at trial, errors that the trial court may correct. State v. O'Hara, 167 Wn.2d 91, 98, 217 P.3d 756 (2009) (citing State v. Scott, 110 Wn.2d 682, 685, 757 P.2d 492 (1988)). An exception exists for manifest errors that affect a constitutional right. RAP 2.5(a)(3). To meet this exception, the appellant must show that the claim "implicates a constitutional interest as compared to another form of trial error." O'Hara, 167 Wn.2d at 98. Courts have found error affecting a constitutional right where the "to convict" instruction shifts the burden of proof to the defendant or omits an element of the crime charged, Id. at 100-01 (citations omitted). To raise such a claim for the first time on appeal, the appellant must also demonstrate that the error resulted in actual prejudice. at 99 (citing State v. Kirkman, 159 Wn.2d 918, 935, 155 P.3d 125 (2007)).

          In this case, St. Clare was charged with first degree cruelty to animals under RCW 16.52.205(2). As relevant here, a person is guilty of that crime when "he or she, with criminal negligence, starves, dehydrates, or suffocates an animal and as a result causes: (a) Substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extends for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; ..." RCW 16.52.205(2).

         At trial, the State proposed jury instructions, including a "to convict" instruction and an instruction defining criminal negligence. The trial court adopted these with minor changes. St. Clare did not object to the instructions.

         The court instructed the jury that:

To convict the defendant of the crime of animal cruelty in the first degree, as charged in [counts one through ten], each of the following elements of the crime must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt:
(1)That the defendant acted by one or more of the following means or methods:
a. That [during the specific period of time], the defendant starved [a particular cat];
b. That [during the specific period of time], the defendant dehydrated [a particular cat];
(2)The defendant acted with criminal negligence;
(3)As a result, the animal suffered substantial and unjustifiable physical pain that extended for a period sufficient to cause considerable suffering; and
(4)That the acts occurred in the State of Washington.
If you find from the evidence that elements (2), (3), and (4), and either of alternative elements (1)(a) or (1)(b), have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, then it will be your duty to return a verdict of guilty. To return a verdict of guilty, the jury need not be unanimous as to which of alternatives (1)(a) or (1)(b) has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, as ...

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