Mendez v. Commonwealth (U)

Under Code § 18.2-460(C), the felony obstruction-of-justice statute, a threat that constitutes attempted obstruction must have a direct relationship to an enumerated felony. The General Assembly has determined that threatening certain public officials as they attempt to perform their official duties is more egregious than the average threat because the threat is made not only against the individual but the office he or she holds as a representative of the people as sovereign. But concluding that a particular action is vile, abhorrent, and criminal doesn’t compel the conclusion that the activity violates a specific statute.

Here, the defendant’s obstruction convictions arose from his efforts to obtain a U-visa with the help of a deputy commonwealth’s attorney. When she told him she couldn’t assist him in obtaining the visa, he continued to visit her office and left profane messages for her that included threats to her and her family. Although she subsequently required a regular security escort, none of the defendant’s threats made in 2016 obstructed or impeded anyone in earlier prosecutions, nor could they have. To find otherwise leaves the scope of § 18.2-460(C) open to prosecutorial creativity, and the resulting variation runs afoul of the principle that an accused cannot be punished unless his or her case falls plainly and unmistakably within the statute.

Reversed and remanded.

Mendez v. Commonwealth (U), No. 0152-18-2, Mar. 12, 2018. CAV (Russell) from Albemarle (Hughes).

Categories: Court of Appeals of Virginia, Opinions, Unpublished


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