State v. Sidell

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
PartiesSTATE OF WASHINGTON, Appellant, v. JASON TAYLOR SIDELL, Respondent.
Docket Number82290-0-I
Decision Date05 July 2022



No. 82290-0-I

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

July 5, 2022


Dwyer, J.

Jason Sidell appeals from a conviction of felony harassment following a bench trial. Sidell contends that (1) the evidence adduced at trial was insufficient to prove that his words constituted a true threat and (2) the First Amendment requires that the State prove Sidell's subjective intent. As neither contention is meritorious, we affirm.


Jason Sidell owned a five bedroom home in Snohomish. Jay Oliver rented a room from Sidell between April and October 2020. During the summer, Oliver and Sidell had a conflict regarding Oliver's pet dog, during which Sidell yelled at Oliver and called him names. Sidell also began having frequent "tantrums," during which he would throw objects in his bedroom, causing the house to shake.

On August 23, 2020, Oliver heard Sidell having a "tantrum." Oliver went into the garage and where Sidell was located. Sidell informed Oliver that Oliver's


boxes should be removed from the garage. Oliver responded that he had not understood a previous text message concerning when the boxes were expected to be removed. In response, Sidell became angry, pointed at Oliver, and yelled that he had a 9-millimeter gun and would shoot Oliver in the head. Sidell then left the garage and went toward his room. Oliver, concerned for his safety, went to his own bedroom, locked the door, and telephoned the police. A teenager who lived across the street overheard the discussion and, concerned about what she had heard, telephoned her mother to get advice about what to do. Before the neighbor and her mother could take any action, police officers arrived.

Eventually, Sidell was charged with one count of felony harassment with a domestic violence enhancement. Sidell was convicted as charged, following a bench trial.

Sidell appeals.


Sidell first contends that a constitutionally insufficient quantum of evidence supported Sidell's conviction. This is so, he argues, because "there was no evidence that a true threat was uttered."[1] As sufficient evidence was adduced at trial, his claim fails.


The due process clauses of the federal and state constitutions require that the government prove every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.


Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 476-77, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000) (citing U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1); State v. Johnson, 188 Wn.2d 742, 750, 399 P.3d 507 (2017) (citing Wash. Const. art. I, § 3). After a verdict, the relevant question when reviewing a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence is "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979).[2] "A claim of insufficiency admits the truth of the State's evidence and all inferences that reasonably can be drawn therefrom." State v. Salinas, 119 Wn.2d 192, 201, 829 P.2d 1068 (1992). "[A]ll reasonable inferences from the evidence must be drawn in favor of the State and interpreted most strongly against the defendant." State v. Partin, 88 Wn.2d 899, 906-07, 567 P.2d 1136 (1977).

The criminal harassment statute provides
(1) A person is guilty of harassment if:
(a)Without lawful authority, the person knowingly threatens:
(i) To cause bodily injury immediately or in the future to the person threatened or to any other person; . . .
. . . [and]
(b)The person by words or conduct places the person threatened in reasonable fear that the threat will be carried out. . . .
. . . .
[(2)](b) A person who harasses another is guilty of a class C felony if any of the following apply: . . . (ii) the person harasses another person under subsection (1)(a)(i) of this
section by threatening to kill the person threatened or any other person.

RCW 9A.46.020.

The State charged Sidell with one count of felony harassment with a domestic violence enhancement, alleging that Sidell

on or about the 23rd day of August, 2020, without lawful authority, knowingly threatened to kill another, and by words or conduct placed the person threatened in reasonable fear that the threat would be carried out; proscribed by RCW 9A.46.020(1) and (2)(b)(ii), a felony; and the victim was a family or household member as defined in RCW 26.50.010(6).

Because the harassment statute criminalizes a form of pure speech-threats-it must be "'interpreted with the commands of the First Amendment clearly in mind.'" State v. Williams, 144 Wn.2d 197, 207, 26 P.3d 890 (2001) (quoting Watts v. United States, 394, U.S. 705, 707, 89 S.Ct. 1399, 22 L.Ed.2d 664 (1969)). Accordingly, the harassment statute is construed as limited to criminalizing true threats, which are not protected by the First Amendment. State v. Allen, 176 Wn.2d 611, 628, 294 P.3d 679 (2013). Our Supreme Court has adopted a definition of "true threat."

"A 'true threat' is a statement made 'in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted . . . as a serious expression of intention to inflict bodily harm upon or to take the life of [another individual].'" State v. Knowles, 91 Wn.App. 367, 373, 957 P.2d 797 (1998) (alteration[s] in original) (quoting United States v. Khorrami, 895 F.2d 1186, 1192 (7th Cir.

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