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‘Obscene’ e-mail case gets second look

A man’s motives in sending dirty e-mails to his estranged wife may come in for a second look when the Virginia Court of Appeals rehears the case of Dennis Barson. Over a six-month period, Barson had sent “vulgar, offensive and sexually explicit” e-mails to his wife Amanda and to friends and family, accusing Amanda of drug use and sexual misconduct.

In early November, an appellate panel overturned Barson’s conviction for computer harassment in violation of Va. Code § 18.2-152.7:1, saying the e-mails did not meet the definition for obscenity in Code § 18.2-372. In an unpublished opinion written by Senior Judge Sam W. Coleman III, the majority drew an apparent distinction between an intent to arouse and an intent to aggravate.

A dissenting judge wanted to affirm Barson’s conviction. Judge Robert J. Humphreys said a reasonable fact finder could conclude that the 87 e-mails, “of a graphic and explicit sexual nature,” that Barson sent to his wife over a two-week period, satisfied the standard to convict.

Today, the Court of Appeals granted rehearing en banc and reinstated the appeal in Barson v. Commonwealth on the court’s docket.

Not the best holiday news for a client. Your conviction that was overturned? We have to go back to court.

“I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Virginia Beach lawyer Samuel R. Brown II, who represented Barson.
By Deborah Elkins

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