Court rules a riding lawnmower is not a vehicle for purposes of theft

In the recent decision of State v. Barnes, the defendant attempted to steal a riding lawnmower. The defendant drove his truck onto the victim’s property, and started to load the lawnmower into his truck when he was caught in the act. Rather than charge the defendant with Theft in the First or Second Degree, the prosecutor chose to charge the defendant with Theft of Motor Vehicle, presumably because it would carry a longer sentence than regular theft, which all depends on the value of the lawnmower. The trial court dismissed the charge ruling that a lawnmower was not “motor vehicle” under the Theft of Motor Vehicle statute. Undeterred, the prosecutor appealed the dismissal. On appeal, the Washington Supreme Court stated:

“RCW 9A.56.065 prohibits theft of a motor vehicle. However, neither the statute nor the criminal code explicitly defines the term ‘motor vehicle.’ Though a plain reading of the term could conceivably include a riding lawn mower, the legislature intended otherwise. Because the act itself denotes a restrained definition, we find that as a matter of law, a riding lawn mower is not a ‘motor vehicle’ for purposes of the theft of a motor vehicle statute.”