Lopez v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0266-20-1

Docket NºRecord No. 0266-20-1
Citation73 Va.App. 70, 854 S.E.2d 660
Case DateMarch 02, 2021
CourtCourt of Appeals of Virginia

73 Va.App. 70
854 S.E.2d 660

Juan Luis LOPEZ
v.
COMMONWEALTH of Virginia

Record No. 0266-20-1

Court of Appeals of Virginia.

MARCH 2, 2021


John I. Jones, IV (John Jones Law, PLC, on brief), for appellant.

Maureen E. Mshar, Assistant Attorney General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

Present: Judges Humphreys, Russell and Athey

OPINION BY JUDGE CLIFFORD L. ATHEY, JR.

73 Va.App. 73

Juan Luis Lopez ("Lopez") appeals his convictions in the Circuit Court of the City of Chesapeake ("trial court") for escaping from the custody of a law enforcement officer by force in violation of Code § 18.2-478, disarming a law enforcement officer of his impact weapon, a baton, in violation of Code § 18.2-57.02, attempting to disarm a law enforcement officer of his stun weapon in violation of Code §§ 18.2-57.02 and 18.2-26, and engaging in an assault and battery on a law enforcement officer in violation of Code § 18.2-57. Lopez contends that the trial court erred when it convicted him of escaping from custody because "no evidence supported a finding that Lopez was charged with a criminal offense at the point of his initial arrest." Lopez also argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove that he disarmed Officer Echevarria of his baton or attempted to disarm Echevarria of his stun weapon because he did not possess the requisite intent to impede the officer in the performance of his official duties.

73 Va.App. 74

Finally, Lopez contends that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove he assaulted and battered Echevarria because the video footage of the encounter "foreclosed a finding that Lopez took any affirmative action resulting in an offensive touching."

BACKGROUND

On the evening of May 18, 2019, Chesapeake Police Officers Gabrielle Quindara ("Quindara") and Anthony Echevarria ("Echevarria") responded to a complaint of a loud party on Phalarope Street in the city. Upon arriving at the scene, the officers first came into contact with Lopez. While interacting with him, the officers wore their full uniforms and displayed their badges of authority. Quindara learned through a check of the VCIN and NCIC database1 that Lopez was the subject of a capias for his arrest issued by the Chesapeake Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court ("Chesapeake JDR"). The capias had been issued for Lopez "[i]n connection with" an assault and battery charge. The capias commanded any officer "in the name of the Commonwealth forthwith to arrest [Lopez]" and "produce [him] ... to show cause, if any, why [he] should not, pursuant to [ ] Code § 18.2-456 ... be imprisoned, fined, or otherwise punished for ... failure to obey an order of this court [to] comply with CCA."2

After confirming Lopez's identity, Quindara advised Lopez that he was wanted on the capias and instructed him to "turn around and put [his] hands behind [his] back." In response, Lopez became "very disorderly" and demanded to see the capias. Quindara tried to "reason with" Lopez by reassuring him that he would see the capias as soon as they arrived at the jail. Lopez then began pulling away from the officers while

73 Va.App. 75

stating, "I'm telling you right now, you ain't doing nothing. Don't do this to yourself."

Echevarria advised Lopez that he was under arrest and attempted to secure Lopez's wrist several times. In response, Lopez "abruptly and in an aggressive manner pulled his arm back" while telling Echevarria, "don't touch me bro" and shoving Echevarria

854 S.E.2d 663

in the chest using both of his hands. Echevarria responded, "you're under arrest," to which Lopez replied, "I'm under arrest for what! What am I under arrest for!" Lopez then began running toward his house. Echevarria pursued him on foot before discharging his stun weapon into Lopez's back. Lopez continued running into his house, closed the door, and fell onto a sofa.

When Echevarria entered the house, Lopez rose from the sofa and lunged toward him, attempting to separate the officer from his stun weapon. Following a struggle, Echevarria was able to secure his stun weapon and return it to his holster. Echevarria then began backing away from Lopez, who responded by charging the officer. Lopez began shoving him in the body and face, and Echevarria deployed his department-issued pepper spray into Lopez's eyes. Lopez then lunged at the officer again, "violently, shoving [him] with ... both of his hands, causing [the officer] to fall." Echevarria stood back up and attempted to arrest Lopez again, whereupon Lopez grabbed Echevarria's head and shoulder area in an effort to take him to the floor. At this point, Echevarria drew his baton and tried to strike Lopez in the knee to subdue him; however, Lopez blocked the baton strike and violently lunged toward Echevarria while shoving him toward the stairs, causing the officer to fall and drop his baton. Before Echevarria was able to regain a standing position, Lopez retrieved the baton and stood over him as he laid on the floor. The violent struggle only ended after Quindara arrived and was able to pull Lopez off of Echevarria.

Quindara testified at trial that she had been speaking with another guest at the party when she heard Echevarria struggling with Lopez. She went to assist Echevarria and managed

73 Va.App. 76

to pull Lopez off of Echevarria. Both of the officers, working in tandem, were finally able to take Lopez to the floor and effectuate the arrest. Quindara was forced to pry one of Lopez's hands from Echevarria's baton in order to place handcuffs on him. Lopez was treated at a hospital and then transported to jail, where he was served with the capias, which the Commonwealth introduced at trial to establish that he was charged with a "criminal offense" at the time of the encounter.

At the conclusion of the Commonwealth's case in chief, Lopez moved to strike as to the escape, disarming, and attempted disarming charges. He argued that all the elements of the escape statute had not been met because the capias was not a "criminal offense" within the meaning of Code § 18.2-478. With respect to the disarming and attempted disarming charges, Lopez argued that the evidence failed to show that he acted with the requisite intent to impede Echevarria in the performance of his duties. The trial court denied Lopez's motion to strike.

Lopez then testified in his own defense, denying much of the Commonwealth's evidence contained in the officers’ body camera footage as well as the testimony of the officers. At the conclusion of all of the evidence, Lopez renewed his motion to strike as to the escape, disarming, and attempted disarming charges. Lopez also moved to strike the evidence as to the assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, arguing that the requisite unlawful touching was not satisfied. The trial court denied the renewed motions to strike, noting that if Lopez had "simply let [the officers] do their duties, all of this would not have happened" and that "[t]his was not an unlawful arrest." The trial court further noted that the officers "were advised that there was a warrant outstanding for [Lopez]," and although Lopez "may have been concerned that it was another Juan Lopez that they were looking for" and "didn't know about any warrants that had been issued for him ... [the street is] not the place to resolve that."

The trial court convicted Lopez of all of the charges, holding that the elements of the escape statute, Code § 18.2-478, were

73 Va.App. 77

satisfied because Lopez was arrested on a charge of criminal offense when the outstanding capias was "for a failure to comply with court-ordered community corrections and supervision ... [and] punishable by imprisonment if he's found to be in violation." With respect to Lopez's disarming Echevarria of the baton and his attempt to disarm Echevarria of his stun weapon, the trial court held that "without a doubt ... [Lopez] was

854 S.E.2d 664

impeding the officer in the use of those weapons, in the officer's effort to make a lawful arrest...." Finally, with respect to the charge of assault and battery of a law enforcement officer, the trial court reasoned that "though [Lopez] denies it, [ ] you can see it on the video where he pushes the officer before he bolts for the house ...."

The trial court sentenced Lopez to a total of seven years and twelve months’ incarceration with six years and twelve months suspended. This appeal followed.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

With respect to issues arising from the trial court's interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review. See Dietz v. Commonwealth, 294 Va. 123, 132, 804 S.E.2d 309 (2017). The dispute over whether a "charge of criminal offense" includes a capias alleging contempt presents such an issue because it requires this Court to interpret Code § 18.2-478. See id. Where an appellant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, we "review factfinding with the highest degree of appellate...

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5 practice notes
  • Meade v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0651-21-3
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • May 17, 2022
    ...stems, in part, from the trial court's "opportunity to observe the testimony and demeanor of all witnesses." Lopez v. Commonwealth , 73 Va. App. 70, 81, 854 S.E.2d 660 (2021). We long have recognized that a "trial judge who views the witnesses as their testimony is given is in the better po......
  • Brown v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0598-21-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • May 10, 2022
    ...arising from the trial court's interpretation of a statute, [this Court] appl[ies] a de novo standard of review." Lopez v. Commonwealth , 73 Va. App. 70, 77, 854 S.E.2d 660 (2021).B. Appellant's Lack of a Legal Justification in Code § 19.2-59 The abduction statute requires that to convict a......
  • Smallwood v. Commonwealth, 1053-21-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • June 7, 2022
    ...the self-serving testimony of [Smallwood] and . . . conclude[d] that [he] [was] lying to conceal his guilt." Lopez v. Commonwealth, 73 Va.App. 70, 81 (2021) (quoting Speller v. Commonwealth, 69 Va.App. 378, 388 (2018)). That the jury apparently credited Smallwood's claim that he did not act......
  • Brown v. Commonwealth, 0598-21-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • May 10, 2022
    ...arising from the trial court's interpretation of a statute, [this Court] appl[ies] a de novo standard of review." Lopez v. Commonwealth, 73 Va.App. 70, 77 (2021). B. Appellant's Lack of a Legal Justification in Code § 19.2-59 The abduction statute requires that to convict a defendant, a tri......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 cases
  • Smallwood v. Commonwealth, 1053-21-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • June 7, 2022
    ...the self-serving testimony of [Smallwood] and . . . conclude[d] that [he] [was] lying to conceal his guilt." Lopez v. Commonwealth, 73 Va.App. 70, 81 (2021) (quoting Speller v. Commonwealth, 69 Va.App. 378, 388 (2018)). That the jury apparently credited Smallwood's claim that he did not act......
  • Brown v. Commonwealth, 0598-21-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • May 10, 2022
    ...arising from the trial court's interpretation of a statute, [this Court] appl[ies] a de novo standard of review." Lopez v. Commonwealth, 73 Va.App. 70, 77 (2021). B. Appellant's Lack of a Legal Justification in Code § 19.2-59 The abduction statute requires that to convict a defendant, a tri......

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