case stems from a fatal car accident where Dean Imokawa's
truck collided with another vehicle during a lane change,
propelling him into oncoming traffic and causing a collision
with another vehicle. The State charged Imokawa with
vehicular homicide and vehicular assault from the injuries
resulting from the collision. The trial court judge denied
Imokawa's request to include a specific jury instruction
that the State must prove the absence of a superseding
intervening cause beyond a reasonable doubt. A jury found
Imokawa guilty of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault.
The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the State has
the burden to prove absence of a superseding intervening
cause, the jury was not sufficiently instructed on this
burden, and the error was not harmless. State v.
Imokawa, 4 Wn.App. 2d 545, 422 P.3d 502 (2018),
review granted in part, 192 Wn.2d 1016, 432 P.3d 111
(2019). The State petitioned for review, arguing that the
jury was properly instructed on the burden of proof and that
any error was harmless. We reverse the Court of Appeals. When
looking at the instructions as a whole, the jury was
adequately instructed as to the State's burden of proof
on the issue of superseding intervening cause.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
morning of April 2, 2015, Imokawa was driving his truck on
State Route (SR) 503, traveling north from Vancouver,
Washington, toward Battle Ground, Washington. While traveling
in the left, northbound lane, Imokawa came up behind a Land
Rover driven by Nicholas Grier. Imokawa attempted to pass
Grier on the right, but he clipped the front of the Land
Rover while changing back from the right lane to the left
lane. This collision caused Imokawa's truck to swerve
west, over the median, and sideways into oncoming, southbound
traffic. A southbound sport utility vehicle (SUV) hit
Imokawa's truck; the driver of the SUV sustained severe
injuries, and her passenger died in the hospital the next
day. Out of these events, the State charged Imokawa with
vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, and reckless driving.
trial there was conflicting testimony as to the facts
immediately leading up to the collision and how the initial
collision between Imokawa and Grier occurred. Grier testified
that while he was driving northbound in the left lane, he
noticed the truck when Imokawa "flashed his headlights
at [him] and came up very close on [his] rear bumper." 2
Verbatim Report of Proceedings (VRP) at 357. He testified
that he was "uncomfortable" because Imokawa's
truck was within a couple feet of his Land Rover, so he
"tapped [his] brakes and put [his] hand up" to wave
him off as they slowed down for a stoplight. 2 VRP at 358.
After the stoplight, Imokawa again came up close to
Grier's bumper, backed off, and moved into the right
lane. Grier testified that as they began going down a hill on
SR 503, Imokawa accelerated past Grier, turned on his
left-hand signal, and within seconds, came over into the
left-hand lane, striking the front of Grier's Land Rover.
Grier testified that he did not try to prevent Imokawa from
making the lane change, he did not see how it would be
possible for Imokawa to make the lane change given the space,
and he did not speed up or react at all because of how
quickly it happened.
testified to a very different story. He stated that he first
noticed Grier's Land Rover when he saw a different truck
pass Grier on the right. He then came up behind the Land
Rover and turned on his headlights to get Grier's
attention and to let him know he wanted to pass, but Grier
did not move over into the right lane. He testified that as
they came up to an intersection, he "backed off,"
but Grier remained in the left lane. 4 VRP at 659. Imokawa
then came up right behind the Land Rover again, and Grier
"slammed on his brakes" and "brake
checked" Imokawa. 4 VRP at 659. Imokawa then backed off
again and moved into the right lane to pass Grier on the
right. He testified that once he moved over, he put on his
left-hand signal, accelerated to pass Grier, and checked his
mirrors to make sure there was enough room to pass Grier. He
claimed that when he began to make the lane change, Grier
sped up to cut him off and hit him, propelling him into
testimony was completed, the parties discussed the jury
instructions, specifically focusing on the instructions for
proximate cause and superseding intervening cause. The main
disagreement was whether the State bears the burden to prove
the absence of a superseding intervening cause beyond a
reasonable doubt or whether the defendant bears the burden of
proving there was a superseding intervening cause, and how
the jury must be instructed on that issue.
proposed that Washington Pattern Jury Instructions: Criminal
90.08, which defines the interplay of proximate cause and
superseding intervening cause, be modified to include
language that read,
The State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt
both (1) that conduct by the defendant was a proximate cause
and, (2) that the conduct of Nicholas Grier did not
constitute a superseding cause of the collision which
resulted in the injuries and the death that occurred in this
Compare Clerk's Papers (CP) at 29, with
11A WASHINGTON Practice: Washington Pattern Jury
Instructions: Criminal 90.08, at 278 (4th ed. 2016) (WPIC).
Imokawa also proposed adding "[t]hat. . . Nicholas Grier
was not a superseding cause of the injuries sustained by [the
victim]" to 11A WPIC 90.02 (elements of vehicular
homicide) and 11A WPIC 91.02 (elements of vehicular assault).
CP at 30; see CP at 33. The trial court declined to
give these instructions and, instead, gave 11A WPIC 90.02,
11A WPIC 91.02, and 11A WPIC 90.08, as well as 11A WPIC
90.07, defining proximate cause.
trial court also gave the standard instructions that included
11 WPIC 4.01, which defines reasonable doubt and informs the
jury that the defendant is presumed innocent, that the burden
is on the State to prove every element of the crimes beyond a
reasonable doubt, and that the defendant has no burden to
prove reasonable doubt. See 11 WPIC 4.01, at 93 (4th
jury found Imokawa guilty of vehicular homicide and vehicular
assault, both based on the prong of "operating [a] motor
vehicle with disregard for the safety of others." CP at
75, 77. The jury acquitted Imokawa of reckless driving.
Imokawa appealed, alleging that the State has the burden to
prove absence of a superseding intervening cause, that the
proof of this absence is an essential element of the crimes
of vehicular homicide and vehicular assault, that the trial
court erred because the jury was not adequately instructed on
the burden and elements, and that the error was not
harmless. The Court of Appeals agreed that the State
had the burden of proof, that the jury was not adequately
instructed on that burden, and that the error was not
harmless, but it disagreed that absence of a superseding
intervening cause is an essential element of the crimes.
Imokawa, 4 Wn.App. 2d 545. The State petitioned this
court's review on the issue of whether the jury was
adequately instructed that the State had the burden to prove
the absence of a superseding intervening cause and, if they
were not, whether the error was harmless.
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United
States Constitution requires that jury instructions
adequately convey to the jury that the State bears the burden
of proving "every element of the crime charged beyond a
reasonable doubt." State v. Brown, 147 Wn.2d
330, 339, 58 P.3d 889 (2002); see also State v.
Acosta, 101 Wn.2d 612, 615, 683 P.2d 1069 (1984). When a
defendant challenges the adequacy of specific jury
instructions informing the jury of the State's burden of
proof, we review the challenged instructions de novo in the
context of the instructions as a whole. State v.
Bennett, 161 Wn.2d 303, 307, 165 P.3d 1241 (2007).
"Instructions satisfy the requirement of a fair trial
when, taken as a whole, they properly inform the jury of the
applicable law, are not misleading, and permit the defendant
to argue his [or her] theory of the case." State v.
Tili, 139 Wn.2d 107, 126, 985 P.2d 365 (1999). When
instructing the jury that the State has the burden to
disprove a defense, "a specific instruction is
preferable, but failure to provide one is not reversible per
se so long as the instructions, taken as a whole, make it
clear that the State has the burden." Acosta,
101 Wn.2d at 621.
it is sufficient to explicitly instruct the jury that the
State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the statutory
elements of the crime. RCW 46.61.520 defines the elements of
(1) When the death of any person ensues within three years as
a proximate result of injury proximately caused by the
driving of any vehicle by any person, the driver is guilty of
vehicular homicide if the driver was operating a motor
(c) With disregard for the safety of others.
RCW 46.61.522 defines the elements of vehicular assault:
(1) A person is guilty of vehicular assault if he or she
operates or drives any vehicle:
(c) With disregard for the safety of others and causes
substantial bodily harm to another.
present case, the jury was instructed on these elements
through 11A WPIC 90.02 and 11A WPIC 91.02, on the definition
of proximate cause through 11A WPIC 90.07, and on the
interplay of proximate cause and superseding intervening
cause through 11A WPIC 90.08.
9, defining proximate cause for vehicular homicide, based on
11A WPIC 90.07, reads,
To constitute vehicular homicide, there must be a causal
connection between the death of a human being and the driving
of a defendant so that the act done or omitted was a
proximate cause of the resulting death.
The term "proximate cause" means a cause which, in
a direct sequence, unbroken by any new independent cause,
produces the death, and without which the death ...