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In re the Personal Restraint of John Tortorelli

Washington Supreme Court
66 P.3d 606 (Wash. 2003), cert. denied, 540 U.S. 875 (2003)


Facts

The State of Washington (plaintiff) prosecuted John Tortorelli (defendant) for the theft of stray logs and submerged trees from a lake. The state constitution defined the lake and its marine natural resources as state property. The jury convicted Tortorelli, who was imprisoned after an appellate court rejected his appeal. Tortorelli petitioned the Supreme Court of Washington for release. Tortorelli contended that he could not have committed theft, because the logs and trees were not state-owned marine natural resources. Tortorelli asserted that he owned the logs and trees pursuant to the "law of finds," a common-law doctrine that conferred ownership on the first party to discover and reduce to possession unknown or abandoned artifacts found in the sea. Three statutory provisions were pertinent to Tortorelli's petition: (1) the definition of theft as stealing "the property of another;" (2) the definition of state-owned marine natural resources as including enumerated minerals, fish, and plants as well as "other marine animal and plant life;" and (3) a statute making stray logs the property of the state when recovered.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Chambers, J.)

Dissent (Sanders, J.)

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