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State v. Bowen

Supreme Court of West Virginia

October 19, 2017

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff below, Respondent
v.
Ryan Christopher Bowen, Defendant below, Petitioner

         Mingo County 16-F-1

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         The petitioner, Ryan Christopher Bowen (hereinafter "the defendant"), appeals his conviction for one count of grand larceny. He asserts the circuit court erred by instructing the jury that a mistake of law is not a defense to this crime. The State of West Virginia responds in support of the instruction and conviction.[1]

         After considering the parties' written and oral arguments, as well as the record on appeal and the applicable law, this Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the conviction is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         I. Facts

         On August 17, 2015, Mingo County Sheriff's Corporal Norman Mines investigated a report that someone was in the process of stealing steel railroad tie plates belonging to the Norfolk Southern Railroad. These tie plates had been stacked in a gravel area along railroad tracks on property owned by the railroad company. Upon responding to the report, Corporal Mines observed 124 tie plates piled inside the bed of a pickup truck parked at a house across an alley from the railroad tracks. The corporal ascertained that the truck belonged to the defendant, who was inside the house.

         Upon being arrested and taken to the Sheriff's office, and after waiving his Miranda[2]rights, the defendant gave a video-recorded confession admitting that he had taken the tie plates. During the recorded statement, the defendant said he "had no clue that they were worth value to other people or property to other people they were just there in what I would call an alley so I seen no harm in loading them up and was going to take them to the scrap yard" to sell.

         The defendant was indicted on one count of grand larceny in violation of West Virginia Code § 61-3-13(a) (2014). At his February 2016 jury trial, the State played the video-recorded police interview. Corporal Mines testified that after he stopped recording, the defendant added to his statement and claimed that his relative, John Tincher, had given him permission to take the tie plates. Mr. Tincher lived in the house where the petitioner was found and arrested. Although Corporal Mines attempted to re-start the video recorder and have the defendant repeat this additional statement, the defendant refused because he "didn't want to be a rat. He didn't want to rat anyone out."[3]

         At trial, a Norfolk Southern supervisor testified that a single steel tie plate is worth between $20 and $30 dollars; accordingly, the value of 124 steel tie plates was established at between $2, 480 and $3, 720. The supervisor explained that the tie plates had been stacked along the railroad tracks awaiting installation, and nobody at the railroad had given permission for their removal. The defendant elected not to testify, and the defense rested its case without calling any witnesses.

         The circuit court instructed the jury on the elements of grand larceny and the lesser-included offense of petit larceny. With regard to grand larceny, the court instructed:

         In order to find the Defendant guilty of Grand Larceny the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that:

1. The Defendant, Ryan Christopher Bowen;
2. In Mingo County, West Virginia;
3. On or about the 17th day of August, 2015;
4. Did unlawfully, knowingly, intentionally, larcenously and ...

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