THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
ELIZABETH A. MCCLANAHAN JUSTICE.
Eugene Turner appeals the decision of the Court of Appeals of
Virginia upholding his conviction for displaying a noose on a
public place with the intent to intimidate, and placing
others in reasonable fear of death or personal injury, in
violation of Code § 18.2-423.2. Turner argues the
display was not proscribed under the statute because,
although visible from a public road, it was located on his
own property. Concluding that the noose display was on a
public place under our construction of the statute, we affirm
The material facts are undisputed. Turner owned and lived on
property in Franklin County adjoining a public road known as
Lindsay Lane. Several other families also lived on Lindsay
Lane, some of whom were African-American. With the intent of
intimidating his African-American neighbors, Turner displayed
a noose in a tree in his front yard from which he hung a
black, life-size mannequin. The display was located
approximately 15 to 30 feet from Lindsay Lane and clearly
visible from this public road. The evidence also established
that the display directly tended to place certain of
Turner's African-American neighbors in reasonable fear of
death or bodily injury.
on these facts, Turner was indicted under Code §
18.2-423.2, and then tried and convicted of this crime in a
bench trial. Code § 18.2-423.2 states:
A. Any person who, with the intent of intimidating any person
or group of persons, displays a noose on the private property
of another without permission is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
B. Any person who, with the intent of intimidating any person
or group of persons, displays a noose on a highway or other
public place in a manner having a direct tendency to place
another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or
bodily injury is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
Turner's noose display was located on his own property,
subsection A of the statute was not implicated by his
actions. In regard to subsection B, as relevant to this
appeal, Turner argued unsuccessfully to the trial court in
his pre-trial motion to dismiss, motion to strike the
Commonwealth's evidence, and post-trial motion to
reconsider, that because the display was on his own
"private property" it was not located on a
"public place" as required for a violation of
subsection B. Code § 18.2-423.2(B). The term
"public place" is not defined in the statute.
his conviction, the Court of Appeals in a published opinion
likewise rejected Turner's contention that privately
owned property cannot constitute a public place for purposes
of Code § 18.2-423.2(B) and that his noose display was
thus outside the scope of this provision. Turner v.
Commonwealth, 67 Va.App. 46, 62-65, 792 S.E.2d 299,
306-08 (2016). In rejecting Turner's construction of the
statute, the Court of Appeals substantially relied upon
Hackney v. Commonwealth, 186 Va. 888, 891-93, 45
S.E.2d 241, 242-43 (1947), where this Court defined the term
"public place" under the disorderly conduct statute
to include private property generally visible by the public
from some other location. Turner, 67 Va.App. at
63-65, 792 S.E.2d at 307-08.
argues in this appeal that the Court of Appeals, like the
trial court, erroneously construed the "public
place" element of Code § 18.2-423.2(B) by holding
that his noose display located on his own property but
visible from Lindsay Lane was displayed on a public place for
purposes of the statute. As this presents a purely legal issue
of statutory construction, we review the issue de novo.
Scott v. Commonwealth, 292 Va. 380, 382, 789 S.E.2d
608, 609 (2016); Jordan v. Commonwealth, 286 Va.
153, 156, 747 S.E.2d 799, 800 (2013).
guided in our analysis of Code § 18.2-423.2 by familiar
principles of statutory construction. When construing a
statute, our "primary objective, " as always, is
"to ascertain and give effect to legislative
intent" from the words of the statute. Lawlor v.
Commonwealth, 285 Va. 187, 236, 738 S.E.2d 847, 875
(2013) (quoting Conger v. Barrett, 280 Va. 627, 630,
702 S.E.2d 117, 118 (2010)). In determining that intent, we
are to give those words "their ordinary meaning, unless
it is apparent that the legislative intent is otherwise,
" Phelps v. Commonwealth, 275 Va. 139, 142, 654
S.E.2d 926, 927 (2008) (citations omitted); and we
"presume that the General Assembly chose, with care, the
words that appear in a statute." Johnson v.
Commonwealth, 292 Va. 738, 742, 793 S.E.2d 321, 323
(2016) (citation omitted). Furthermore, the "plain,
obvious, and rational meaning of a statute is to be preferred
over any curious, narrow, or strained construction."
Meeks v. Commonwealth, 274 Va. 798, 802, 651 S.E.2d
637, 639 (2007) (quoting Commonwealth v. Zamani, 256
Va. 391, 395, 507 S.E.2d 608, 609 (1998)). We also presume
that, in choosing the words of the statute, "the General
Assembly acted with full knowledge of the law in the area in
which it dealt." Philip Morris v. The Chesapeake Bay
Found., 273 Va. 564, 576, 643 S.E.2d 219, 225 (2007)
(citing United Masonry, Inc. v. Riggs Nat'l
Bank, 233 Va. 476, 480, 357 S.E.2d 509, 512 (1987)).
because Code § 18.2-423.2 is a penal statute, it must be
strictly construed with regard to any reasonable ambiguity,
meaning Turner is "entitled to the benefit of any
reasonable doubt concerning the statute's
construction." Waldrop v. Commonwealth, 255 Va.
210, 215-16, 495 S.E.2d 822, 825 (1998) (citing Harward
v. Commonwealth, 229 Va. 363, 365, 330 S.E.2d 89, 90
(1985)). This principle, however, "does not prevent
consideration by the courts of the general purpose and
design" of the statute when construing it. Tiller v.
Commonwealth, 193 Va. 418, 423, 69 S.E.2d 441, 444
(1952) (citing Donnelley v. United States, 276 U.S.
505, 512 (1928)). Therefore, "we will not apply 'an
unreasonably restrictive interpretation of the statute'
that would subvert the ...