2015, after attempting to steal a riding lawn mower, Joshua
Barnes was arrested and charged with theft of a motor
vehicle. He filed a motion to dismiss, claiming that a riding
lawn mower is not a "motor vehicle" under RCW
9A.56.065, Washington's theft of a motor vehicle statute.
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.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
2015, Barnes and his girlfriend allegedly tried to steal a
riding lawn mower from a property outside Leavenworth,
Washington. After seeing a pickup truck drive past her home,
the property owner heard her riding lawn mower starting up.
Looking out a window, she saw Barnes attempting to ride her
lawn mower up a ramp and onto the bed of his pickup truck.
The owner confronted Barnes, who returned the lawn mower. As
he and his girlfriend drove away, the owner wrote down the
license plate number and called the police, providing a
description of both individuals. Barnes was arrested two days
later and charged with second degree theft and second degree
criminal trespass. The State later added the charge of theft
of a motor vehicle under RCW 9A.56.065 and 9A.56.020.
objected to the motor vehicle charge under State v.
Knapstad, 107 Wn.2d 346, 729 P.2d 48 (1986). He argued
that the definition of "motor vehicle" does not
include riding lawn mowers. He pointed to RCW 46.04.320 and
RCW 46.04.670, the definitions of "motor vehicle"
and "vehicle" in our vehicle and traffic statutes,
noting that a riding lawn mower is similar to a golf cart
under those statutes. Because golf carts are explicitly
excluded from either definition, Barnes contended that the
legislature similarly intended to exclude riding lawn mowers.
Because lawn mowers are designed for pruning grass rather
than for transporting people or cargo on a public roadway, he
argued they are not included in the theft of a motor vehicle
State countered that the statute is clear on its face. It
noted that the lawn mower is "self-propelled, " as
required by RCW 46.04.320. Further, it is "capable of
being moved upon a public highway" while carrying people
or cargo as required by RCW 46.04.670. Because a lawn mower
fits into the definitions provided in our vehicle and traffic
laws, and because the legislature did not include an explicit
exception for lawn mowers, the State argued a riding lawn
mower qualifies as a "motor vehicle."
superior court agreed with Barnes. It explained that if a
statute is plain on its face, the court must give effect to
that plain meaning. However, it noted the court is also
required to take into account the statute's context and
to effectuate the legislature's intent. Accordingly, the
trial court found the legislature had not intended that
riding lawn mowers be included under the theft of a motor
vehicle statute and dismissed the charge.
State delayed prosecution of Barnes's remaining charges
and moved the Court of Appeals for review. The Court of
Appeals affirmed. State v. Barnes, 196 Wn.App. 261,
382 P.3d 729 (2016). It noted that if a statute is clear, the
plain language should be taken on its face. However, the
court's fundamental task is to "ascertain and carry
out the intent of the legislature." Id. at 266.
It opined that the statute is clear on its face, but
questioned "whether we should always follow the plain
meaning principle." Id. at 269. It reasoned
that "[a] thing within the letter of the law, but not
within its spirit, may be held inoperative when it would
otherwise lead to an absurd conclusion." Id. at
271 (citing Murphy v. Campbell Inv. Co., 79 Wn.2d
417, 421, 486 P.2d 1080 (1971)). Because of this, the Court
of Appeals agreed with the trial court that a riding lawn
mower is not a "motor vehicle" for purposes of the
statute. Id. at 276.
State sought discretionary review, which we granted.
State v. Barnes, 187 Wn.2d 1017, 390 P.3d 348
riding lawn mower a "motor vehicle" for purposes of
Knaps tad, the trial court should dismiss a criminal
charge if there are "no disputed material facts and the
undisputed facts do not raise a prima facie case of guilt as
a matter of law." State v. Bauer, 180 Wn.2d
929, 935, 329 P.3d 67 (2014) (citing Knapstad, 107
Wn.2d at 356-57). We review Knqpstad findings de
novo. State v. Montano, 169 Wn.2d 872, 876, 239 P.3d
"paramount duty in statutory interpretation is to give
effect to the Legislature's intent." State v.
Elgin, 118 Wn.2d 551, 555, 825 P.2d 314 (1992) (citing
Wash. Pub. Power Supply Sys. v. Gen. Elec. Co., 113
Wn.2d 288, 292, 778 P.2d 1047 (1989)). When a statute does
not define a term, we give the term '"its plain and
ordinary meaning unless a contrary legislative intent is
indicated.'" State v. Jones, 172 Wn.2d 236,
242, 257 P.3d 616 (quoting Ravenscroft v. Wash. Water
Power Co., 136 Wn.2d 911, 920-21, 969 P.2d 75 (1998)).
We generally derive this plain meaning from the "context
of the entire act" as well as other related statutes.
Jametsky v. Olsen, 179 Wn.2d 756, 762, 317 P.3d 1003
(2014) (citing Dep 't of Ecology v. Campbell &
Gwinn, LLC, 146 Wn.2d 1, 11, 43 P.3d 4 (2002)). We may
also determine the plain meaning of an undefined term from a
standard English dictionary. State v. Fuentes, 183
Wn.2d 149, 160, 352 P.3d 152 (citing State v. Bahl,
164 Wn.2d 739, 754, 193 P.3d 678 (2008)).
RCW 9A.56.065 does not explicitly define "motor
vehicle." Both parties suggest we use the term
"vehicle" as defined in RCW 9A.04.110(29), using by
reference the definition of "motor vehicle" in our
vehicle and transport laws. RCW 46.04.320, .670. However, we
decline to do so. The legislature chose not to define
"motor vehicle" in our theft statutes. Because the
term is undefined, we give it its plain and ordinary meaning
as ascertained from a standard English dictionary.
Fuentes, 183 Wn.2d at 160.
"motor vehicle" is defined as "an automotive
vehicle not operated on rails; esp[ecially]: one
with rubber tires for use on highways." WEBSTER'S
THIRD New International Dictionary 1476 (2002).
"Automotive" is defined as "containing within
itself the means of propulsion ... of, relating to, or
concerned with vehicles or machines that propel themselves
(as automobiles, trucks, airplanes, motorboats)."
Id. at 148. In the context of this statute, these
definitions contemplate cars and other automobiles designed
for transport of people or cargo, but not machines designed
for other purposes yet capable of transporting people or
cargo. Yet these definitions could conceivably include riding
lawn mowers. Though designed for pruning grass, riding lawn
mowers are nonetheless self-propelled means of transport.
However, the legislature has explicitly indicated a contrary
itself indicates that the legislature contemplated
automobiles, rather than riding lawn mowers, when it used the
term "motor vehicle" in the theft of a motor
vehicle statute. The 2007 act's short title is "the
Elizabeth Nowak-Washington auto theft prevention act."
LAWS OF 2007, ch. 199, § 29. In its findings, the
legislature used the term "motor vehicle" or
"vehicle" 10 times. Id. § 1. Yet, it
used the terms "car, " "auto, " or
"auto theft" 14 times. Id. It further
noted that "[t]he family car is a priority of most
individuals and families." Id. § l(1)(a).
While other crime had decreased over time, "auto theft
ha[d] increased over fifty-five percent" since 1994;
over 50, 000 thefts occurred in 2005 alone. Id.
§ l(1)(b). The legislature also noted that "auto
theft ... is linked more and more to offenders engaged in
other crimes." Id. § l(1)(c). Indeed,
"[m]any stolen vehicles are used by criminals involved
in such crimes as robbery, burglary, and assault."
Id. The legislature passed this bill with the
explicit purpose of curbing the rising rate of auto thefts.
not necessary to our holding, the statute's legislative
history also supports the conclusion that the legislature
never intended riding lawn mowers to be included under the
theft of a motor vehicle statute. Before passage, advocates
of the bill noted the high rate of auto theft and the
comparatively low penalty for repeat offenders under the
then-current theft scheme. H.B. REP. ON ENGROSSED THIRD
SUBSTITUTE BILL 1001, at 9-10, 60th Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash.
2007). They explained auto theft's connection to other
crimes, including identity theft, methamphetamine possession,
and gang activity. Id. It is clear that auto theft,
not lawn mower theft, was the primary concern when the bill
was drafted. Where that is the case, courts will, consistent
with other relevant statutory language, construe a general
term so as to further that specific purpose. See Yates v.
United States, __U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1074, 1080, 191
L.Ed.2d. 64 (2015) (construing the term "tangible
object, " in destruction-of-evidence statute passed to
combat corporate fraud, to incorporate only those objects
that can store information, and thus exclude fish).
Barnes did not attempt to steal a "family car, "
nor is the riding lawn mower he attempted to take a
comparable investment to a family car. He did not attempt to
steal anything that could reasonably be used for a later
robbery, burglary, or assault. There is nothing to indicate a
connection between the theft of lawn mowers and drug
possession or gang activity.
plain meaning of "motor vehicle" is clear. The
legislature has explicitly indicated it intended to focus
this statute on cars and other automobiles. It was responding
to increased auto theft, not increased riding lawn mower
theft. Though the definition of "motor vehicle"
could be more expansive in other statutes, the only statute
at issue here is the theft of a motor vehicle statute.
Because of this, we hold that a riding lawn mower is not a
"motor vehicle" under RCW 9A.56.065.
that a riding lawn mower is not a "motor vehicle"
under RCW 9A.56.065. The statute does not define "motor
vehicle" for purposes of theft. However, the legislature
has made its intent clear. The session law indicates it was
designed to combat auto theft and associated crime, not the
theft of lawn mowers. Barnes cannot be charged with theft of
a motor vehicle for stealing a riding lawn mower. Therefore,
we affirm the Court of Appeals and remand to the trial court
for further proceedings.
WIGGINS, J. (concurring)
with the lead opinion's conclusion that a lawn mower is
not a motor vehicle for purposes of RCW 9A.56.065. I write
separately to clarify two analytical steps: First, we should
consider the entirety of the statute when interpreting the
phrase "motor vehicle." Second, after concluding
that "motor vehicle" is ambiguous, we must serve
the legislature's stated intent in light of the
circumstances in which the statute was passed. Following this
analytical process, I conclude that the legislature did not
intend the statute that it named the "Elizabeth
Nowack-Washington auto theft prevention
act" to encompass theft of riding lawn mowers.
The Meaning of "Motor Vehicle" in RCW 9A.56.065
with the lead opinion's characterization of our statutory
interpretation process. Our "'paramount duty in
statutory interpretation is to give effect to the
Legislature's intent.'" Lead opinion at 4
(quoting State v. Elgin,118 Wn.2d 551, 555, 825
P.2d 314 (1992)). "If the statute's meaning is plain
on its face, we give effect to that plain meaning as the
expression of what was intended." TracFone Wireless,
Inc. v. Dep't of Revenue,170 Wn.2d 273, 281, 242
P.3d 810 (2010). In determining whether a statute conveys a
plain meaning, "that meaning is discerned from all that
the Legislature has said in the statute and related statutes
which disclose legislative intent about the provision in
question." Dep't of Ecology v. Campbell &
Gwinn, LLC,146 Wn.2d 1, 11, 43 P.3d 4 (2002). "If
a statute is ambiguous, we 'may look to the legislative
history of the statute and the circumstances surrounding its