State v. Steen, 39625–1–II.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Washington
Citation265 P.3d 901,164 Wash.App. 789
Docket NumberNo. 39625–1–II.,39625–1–II.
PartiesSTATE of Washington, Respondent, v. Ronald STEEN, Appellant.
Decision Date20 December 2011


Reed Manley Benjamin Speir, Attorney at Law, University Place, WA, for Appellant.

Melody M. Crick, Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney, Tacoma, WA, for Respondent.

Sarah A. Dunne, ACLU of Washington Foundation, Seattle, WA, Nancy Lynn Talner, Attorney at Law, Seattle, WA, Shawn J. Larsen–Bright, Dorsey Whitney LLP, Seattle, WA, Lauren Hemingway Offenbecher, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of American Civil Liberties Union O.PENOYAR, C.J.

[164 Wash.App. 794] ¶ 1 Police officers knocked on a trailer door at the scene of a reported disturbance and ordered any occupants to exit with their hands up. Ronald Steen, the sole occupant, did not open the door. The officers lawfully entered the trailer through an open window under the community caretaking exception to the warrant requirement. The officers discovered and detained Steen, who refused to provide his name and date of birth. A jury convicted Steen of obstructing a law enforcement officer, RCW 9A.76.020(1), based on these facts. He appeals, arguing that (1) insufficient evidence supports the conviction, (2) RCW 9A.76.020(1) is unconstitutional as applied because it violates his First and Fifth Amendment rights to remain silent, and (3) the prosecutor committed misconduct by filing the charge and by introducing testimony of and commenting on his pre- and post-arrest silence. We affirm.


¶ 2 On July 9, 2008, Deputy Andrew Finley responded to a “disturbance” at a Puyallup property that involved “one female, possibly two males.” Clerk's Papers (CP) 340. He observed a woman, who was visibly upset, on the property. Her eyes were red and she had “mascara running down her cheeks.” CP at 341. At trial, Finley testified that the woman had exited a trailer on the property. Deputy Tanya Terrones arrived to assist. Both deputies arrived at the scene in patrol cars and wore uniforms.

¶ 3 After speaking with the woman, the deputies looked around the property for the other individuals. At trial, Finley explained why the deputies looked around:

[W]e're trying to figure out ... because of the original call if there's possibly three people involved in the disturbance. Um I wanted to make sure that anybody else was still on the property and not going to jump out behind a bush or something. It's just when we go into unknown situations we're always looking for anybody that still might be at the scene.


They could be injured. They could be hiding with a weapon. Somebody could be ready [to] ambush you.... [I]t's important for us to feel like we're safe in that environment or somebody else is safe and everybody's there that should be there and if they're not there we need to determine that they are not there.

CP at 342–43.

¶ 4 After checking a barn and some nearby bushy areas, the deputies told the woman that they needed to look in the trailer, which was locked. At trial, Terrones described the trailer as a “travel trailer” that was 7 feet wide and 12 feet long. CP at 325. Finley called it “a trailer you put a Fifth Wheel on the back of a truck” [sic] and estimated that it was 7 to 8 feet wide and 15 to 30 feet long. CP at 348. The woman told the deputies that the trailer did not belong to her and that she did not have a key.

¶ 5 Terrones walked around the trailer for three to four minutes and peered through the windows, some of which were open. Terrones then knocked “very loudly” on the trailer's door and said, Pierce County Sheriff's department. Come out with your hands [up].” CP at 325. She heard no movement inside. After 30 or 45 seconds, she knocked “very loudly” again, stating “Pierce County Sheriffs department. I'm going to conduct a building search. Come out with your hands up.” CP at 325. Finley described the deputies' knocking efforts as follows:

[W]e're knocking on the door, yelling out the Sheriff's department. You know we're outside. Anybody inside the trailer needs to come out please. Ah, we'd knock many times. There's some open windows where there's just the screen and stuff in there so it would have been easy to hear us. Ah we can make as much ruckus as possible ... because no cops like to go into a building or a house that we are not familiar with and search.

CP at 346.

[164 Wash.App. 796] ¶ 6 Because the deputies were concerned that somebody in the trailer might need emergency assistance,1 Finley helped Terrones enter through an open window. Terrones unlocked the door for Finley. The deputies immediately noticed Steen approaching them from the back bedroom and ordered him to put his hands up.2 Steen complied and asked, [W]hat do you want? I was just sleeping.” CP at 348. Finley asked Steen whether there was anyone else in the trailer, and Steen said no. Finley handcuffed Steen and put him in the back of a patrol car.

¶ 7 Terrones repeatedly asked Steen for his name and date of birth while he sat in the back of the patrol car. Steen did not provide this information. Forty-five minutes later, the deputies determined Steen's identity and arrested 3 him on an outstanding arrest warrant.

[164 Wash.App. 797] ¶ 8 The State charged Steen in Pierce County District Court with obstruction of a law enforcement officer. Deputies Finley and Terrones were the only two trial witnesses, and they testified consistent with the above facts. The trial court instructed the jury that [a] defendant's mere refusal to answer questions is not sufficient grounds to arrest for obstruction of a police officer.” CP at 17; Instr. 8. A jury convicted Steen as charged.

¶ 9 Steen appealed his conviction to Pierce County Superior Court, which affirmed. See RALJ 2.2(a). We granted discretionary review.4


I. Sufficiency of the Evidence

¶ 10 Steen argues that the State presented insufficient evidence that he obstructed a law enforcement officer. Specifically, he argues that (1) the State failed to present sufficient evidence that he knew the officers were discharging their official duties when they knocked on the trailer door; (2) the mere act of remaining silent, without more, is insufficient to establish that he hindered, delayed, or obstructed the officers; and (3) the officers' testimony that he refused to provide his name and date of birth and to exit the trailer should not have been admitted as substantive evidence of his guilt because he had a right to remain silent under both the First and Fifth Amendments. We conclude that the jury had sufficient evidence to convict Steen of obstruction.

A. Standard of Review

¶ 11 In a RALJ appeal, we review the district court's decision for errors of law. RALJ 9.1(a); see State v. Ford, 110 Wash.2d 827, 829, 755 P.2d 806 (1988) (stating that RALJ 9.1 standards, which by their terms apply only to superior court review, also govern our Supreme Court's review). When reviewing a sufficiency challenge, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State in order to determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. State v. Hosier, 157 Wash.2d 1, 8, 133 P.3d 936 (2006). We interpret all reasonable inferences in the State's favor. Hosier, 157 Wash.2d at 8, 133 P.3d 936.

¶ 12 Statutory interpretation is a question of law that we review de novo. State v. Engel, 166 Wash.2d 572, 576, 210 P.3d 1007 (2009). In construing a criminal statute, our objective is to determine the legislature's intent. State v. Jacobs, 154 Wash.2d 596, 600, 115 P.3d 281 (2005). If the statute's meaning is plain on its face, we give effect to that plain meaning as an expression of legislative intent. Jacobs, 154 Wash.2d at 600, 115 P.3d 281. If, however, the statute is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation, it is ambiguous and the rule of lenity requires us to interpret the statute in the defendant's favor absent legislative intent to the contrary. Jacobs, 154 Wash.2d at 600–01, 115 P.3d 281.

B. Obstruction of a Law Enforcement Officer

¶ 13 “A person is guilty of obstructing a law enforcement officer if the person willfully hinders, delays, or obstructs any law enforcement officer in the discharge of his or her official powers or duties.” RCW 9A.76.020(1). “Hinder” means “to make slow or difficult the course or progress of.” Webster's Third New Int'l Dictionary 1070 (2002). “Delay” means “to stop, detain, or hinder for a time ... to cause to be slower or to occur more slowly than normal.” Webster's at 595. “Obstruct” means “to be or come in the way of: hinder from passing, action, or operation.” Webster's at 1559. A person acts willfully when he acts knowingly with respect to the material elements of the offense. RCW 9A.08.010(4).

1. Willfulness

¶ 14 Steen first asserts that his failure to open the door was not obstruction because he did not know that the officers were discharging their official duties.5 He therefore contends that he did not willfully obstruct the deputies because “there [was] no way he could have known what the deputies were doing or why they wanted entry into the trailer, or even that the deputies were trying to enter the trailer.” Appellant's Br. at 18. According to Steen, the “only evidence before the jury” was “that he was sleeping when the deputies knocked on the door to the trailer and was awakened by their activity.” Appellant's Br. at 17–18.

¶ 15 Steen's assertions misapprehend the nature of a sufficiency challenge in which we view all evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the State. See Hosier, 157 Wash.2d at 8, 133 P.3d 936. Viewed in this light, the facts show that the deputies, who arrived in patrol cars and wore police uniforms, repeatedly knocked “very loudly” on the trailer's door, “yell[ed] out “Sheriff's department,” and asked any occupants to exit the trailer. CP at 325, 346. The trailer was small—between 7...

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