City of Redmond v. Burkhart

Decision Date24 January 2000
Docket NumberNo. 43162-5-I.,43162-5-I.
Citation99 Wash.App. 21,991 P.2d 717
CourtWashington Court of Appeals
PartiesCITY OF REDMOND, Appellant, v. Steven L. BURKHART, Respondent.

R.L. Mitchell, Jennifer Boyle, City of Redmond Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Redmond, for Appellant.

Cara M. Starr, Tucker & Stein, P.S., Inc., Bellevue, for Respondent.


Steven Burkhart telephoned his wife and, after conversing a short while, became angry and threatened to kill her. The telephone harassment statute under which he was charged prohibits making a telephone call threatening injury with the intent to intimidate. This case presents a unique question—does "make" in the context of making a telephone call encompass all stages of the call until the call is terminated or does it describe only the initiation of the call? Based upon the statutory construction as well as the ordinary meaning of "make," we hold that "make," as used' in RCW 9.61.230, refers to the call in its entirety.

Burkhart telephoned his estranged wife, Anita, to speak to their son. When she refused to put their son on the telephone, Burkhart became angry and a verbal argument ensued. Burkhart told Anita that he would kill her and that he would file for custody and deprive her of their son. The City of Redmond brought charges against Burkhart for telephone harassment. Burkhart moved to dismiss, relying on State v. Knapstad, 107 Wash.2d 346, 729 P.2d 48 (1986). He alleged that the State could not prove each element necessary to the charged offense. The trial court dismissed the charges because it found that under the statute, the specific intent to intimidate must exist at the time the call is placed and that Burkhart did not have that intent when he initiated the call. The superior court affirmed the decision of the district court. The City appeals.

The telephone harassment statute under which Burkhart was charged provides:

Every person who, with intent to harass, intimidate, torment or embarrass any other person, shall make a telephone call to such other person:
(1) Using any lewd, lascivious, profane, indecent, or obscene words or language, or suggesting the commission of any lewd or lascivious act; or
(2) Anonymously or repeatedly or at an extremely inconvenient hour, whether or not conversation ensues; or
(3) Threatening to inflict injury on the person or property of the person called or any member of his or her family or household;

shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor[.]

RCW 9.61.230.

Statutory Interpretation

Statutory construction or interpretation is reviewed de novo. Clauson v. Department of Labor & Indus., 130 Wash.2d 580, 583, 925 P.2d 624 (1996); State v. Merritt, 91 Wash.App. 969, 973, 961 P.2d 958 (1998). If the statute is unambiguous, it is not subject to judicial interpretation and its meaning is derived from its language alone. State v. Chester, 133 Wash.2d 15, 21, 940 P.2d 1374 (1997). "Statutes are to be construed as a whole, considering all provisions in relation to each other and giving effect to each provision." Merritt, 91 Wash.App. at 973, 961 P.2d 958. If a term is not statutorily defined, the term is given its ordinary or common law meaning. State v. Alvarez, 128 Wash.2d 1, 11, 904 P.2d 754 (1995). In determining the ordinary meaning of the term, the court may use a dictionary. See Zachman v. Whirlpool Fin. Corp., 123 Wash.2d 667, 671, 869 P.2d 1078 (1994); City of Bellevue v. Lorang, 92 Wash.App. 186, 193, 963 P.2d 198 (1998), review granted, 137 Wash.2d 1027, 980 P.2d 1280 (1999). Burkhart urges this court to adopt the interpretation applied to a similar statute in State v. Wilcox, 160 Vt. 271, 628 A.2d 924 (1993). The same issue was raised in Wilcox as is presently before this court. There, the defendant telephoned a town selectman to complain about matters. He reached the selectman's wife instead. Despite her repeated statements that her husband was not at home, the conversation lasted about 20 minutes and finally ended when the defendant asked her, "How would you like to be shot?" Wilcox, 628 A.2d at 925. The defendant was charged under Vermont's telephone harassment statute, which criminalizes the conduct of any "person who, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass or annoy, telephones another and ... (ii) threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to the person or property of any person[.]" 13 V.S.A. § 1027(a)(ii). In reversing the conviction, the Wilcox court concluded that under the language of the statute "intent should be measured at the time the person telephones" or initiates the call. Wilcox, 628 A.2d at 926.

Although at first glance the statutes are similar, the language in the Vermont statute differs significantly from that in the statute at issue here. Vermont's statute penalizes an individual who, with intent to intimidate, "telephones another and ... threatens to inflict injury[.]" 13 V.S.A. § 1027(a)(ii) (italics ours). That construction indicates that the intent must be formed at the initiation of the call, and the threat must follow. Under the Washington statute, however, the threat describes the call. The statute provides that no person with the intent to intimidate "shall make a telephone call ... threatening to inflict injury." RCW 9.61.230 (italics ours). The statute thus specifically proscribes the type of call prohibited, which cannot be determined until after the call has been initiated. Because a threat must necessarily occur in conversation, it is reasonable to conclude that the Legislature intended "making a call" to encompass a broader meaning than the mere initiation of the call. Thus, it follows that the term "make" as it is used in RCW 9.61.230 is a continuing, rather than a discreet, process.

But even without that distinction between the two statutes, we are not persuaded by the Wilcox decision that the intent element must be in association with the dialing process. To interpret RCW 9.61.230 to govern only those calls dialed while the caller has the intent to intimidate defies common sense. Such a limited reading artificially narrows the scope of the statute and draws an illogical distinction between threats made by a caller who initiates the call with the intent to intimidate and those made by a caller who formulates the intent to intimidate mid-conversation. Both callers exhibit the same conduct—the threat—and the same intent— intimidation. To interpret the statute as treating them differently is to unnaturally constrict its reach.

That "make" may be a continuing process rather than merely the initiation of a process is supported by dictionary definition. "Make" is defined as "to bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc.: to make a dress; to make a chair; to make a work of art ... to produce; cause to exist; bring about: to make...

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  • State v. Alphonse
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • December 29, 2008
    ...pussy down."). 2. 142 Wash.App. 417, 174 P.3d 684 (2008), review granted, 164 Wash.2d 1021, 196 P.3d 134 (2008). 3. 99 Wash.App. 21, 27, 991 P.2d 717 (2000). 4. 134 Wash.App. 462, 464, 140 P.3d 614 (2006), aff'd, 163 Wash.2d 1, 177 P.3d 686 (2008). 5. State v. Lilyblad, 163 Wash.2d 1, 177 P......
  • State v. Alphonse
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • January 7, 2008
    ...person harasses another person under subsection (1)(c) . . . by threatening to kill the person threatened or any other person." ¶ 9 In Burkhart, we rejected the argument that the statute's language "make a telephone call" describes only the initiation of the call. Based on a plain reading o......
  • State v. Lilyblad
    • United States
    • Washington Supreme Court
    • February 7, 2008
    ...of the Court of Appeals opinion, based on a conflicting interpretation of the same statute by Division One in City of Redmond v. Burkhart, 99 Wash.App. 21, 991 P.2d 717 (2000). The State contends that the trial court gave proper instructions to the jury under Burkhart, which requires the sp......
  • State v. Holmes, No. 57875-8-I (Wash. App. 11/26/2007)
    • United States
    • Washington Court of Appeals
    • November 26, 2007
    ...of his pretrial release, is moot. His third and fourth claims are largely controlled by our discussion above and our prior decision in Burkhart. His twelfth claim is meritless since ER 609 has no bearing on whether the State may require him to give a DNA sample as part of his In his sixth c......
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