Monday, April 8, 2019
The D.C. Circuit on Friday rejected the plaintiffs' facial vagueness challenge to D.C.'s anti-obstruction statute. The ruling means that the statute stays on the books.
The case, Agnew v. D.C., tests D.C.'s anti-obstruction statute. That provision makes it a misdemeanor "to crowd, obstruct, or incommode" the use of streets, sidewalks, or building entrances, and "continue or resume the crowding, obstructing, or incommoding after being instructed by a law enforcement officer to cease" doing so.
Three plaintiffs challenged the law as unconstitutionally vague. One was arrested after he failed to comply with an officer's warning to vacate a ramp near his apartment building. (He had stepped outside his home to get some air and was standing on the ramp as the officer drove by.) Another was arrested after he failed to comply with that same officer's warning to get off the stoop of his mother's building (where he went for a smoke). The third was arrested on a sidewalk in front of a business after she failed to comply with an officer's instruction to leave.
None actually obstructed anything, and their criminal cases were dismissed for lack of prosecution.
They sued, arguing that the law was unconstitutionally vague on its face, because it is subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. The court rejected the challenge:
Because it is readily apparent that the terms "to crowd, obstruct, or incommode" the use of public ways mean to block or hinder other people's ability to pass through or use a common space, we hold that the anti-obstructing statute is not unconstitutionally vague on its face.
The court noted that because the plaintiffs lodged only a facial challenge--and because their individual relief depended on that challenge's success--it didn't need to rule on individual relief.