An ordinance prohibiting a person from threatening a police officer in the exercise of her official duties is not unconstitutionally vague, the Commonwealth Court held in Commonwealth v. Thompson, __ A.3d __ (No. 936 C.D. 2014, filed March 12, 2015). In this case, a uniformed police officer knocked on Kenneth D. Thompson, Sr.’s door and asked to speak to him regarding a dispute with his neighbor. Thompson replied, “I have a shotgun and it’s loaded with buckshot.” When the officer asked Thompson to come outside he stated, “If you don’t get off my property, I’m coming out with my shotgun.” Thompson was charged with “disturbing the peace involving conduct towards a police officer,” which is defined by ordinance as “interfering willfully with, resisting, delaying, obstructing, molesting, or threatening to molest by any person a police officer in the exercise of his/her official duties.” The trial court rejected Thompson’s claim that the ordinance is unconstitutionally vague.
A Commonwealth Court panel unanimously agreed with the trial court and affirmed the judgment of sentence against Thompson. In an opinion authored by Senior Judge Colins, the Court reasoned that the ordinance employs common language easily understood by a person of ordinary intelligence, and “well-known verbs that denote conduct carried out to make another’s task more difficult.” The Court rejected Thompson’s analogy to anti-loitering ordinances found unconstitutional because they allowed for discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement, noting that the ordinance in this case “defines and prohibits conduct that is highly contextual,” and “applies only to specifically defined behavior, only when directed at police officers … exercising their official duties.” The Court concluded that Thompson’s conduct fell squarely within the prohibition of the ordinance because he threatened the officer with his loaded shotgun.
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