Officer’s conviction for federal crime of depriving persons of the right to be free from unreasonable seizure was upheld
In U.S. v. House the defendant was charged with the federal crimes of depriving a person of the constitutional right to be free from unreasonable seizure by a law enforcement officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §242, and with making false statements within the a matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Protective Service, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1001. House was a law enforcement officer for the Federal Protective Services, a federal law enforcement agency whose jurisdiction is limited to properties owned by the General Services Administration (GSA). He wore a uniform with a badge, and carried a police officer type utility belt with gun, radio, and handcuffs. He drove a vehicle with markings, siren, emergency lights on the roof similar to a police car. He looked like a police officer. House had an ugly habit of stopping motorists who did not violate any traffic laws, but he accused them of driving carelessly or recklessly. Essentially, he was charged with making unlawful traffic stops of about seven different individuals and submitting false information about each of the incidents to his agency. In some cases he would call the local police and give false information about what the driver had done. He gave false information in the reports he was required to give his agency about any incident where he used his emergency lights. The motorists where recounted their feeling of intimidation by his siren and uniform, believing he was a police officer with full authority to stop and detain. In fact, his agency gave him no authority to pull over a driver outside of GSA property. In addition to this charge, he was charged with making false statements to the Federal Protective Service.
Sufficiency of the Evidence.
House argued the evidence was insufficient to establish that he seized motorists. The 11th Circuit recounted the evidence given by various motorists pulled over by House who described how he pulled them over with emergency lights activated and walked up to them wearing what appeared to be a police uniform. The motorists said they pulled over because that is what law abiding citizens must do. They described House’s tone as “scary” and felt intimidated. The jury was entitled to find that House seized the defendant by detaining them or forcing them to stop. The evidence was sufficient to show that the seizures were unreasonable. The jury was also able to find from the testimony that there was no probable cause to seize them because of a lack ofprobable cause or reasonable suspicion they broke any motor vehicle laws. Evidence was sufficient to establish that House acted willfully given the sheer number of persons he seized and his behavior during the encounters.
Evidence was sufficient to establish a false statement.
The evidence established the reports were material because others in the agency rely on them. Specific intent was proven by the fact that House knew his regulation forbade him from stopping outside his jurisdiction. Nevertheless he gave false statements in his report to justify the encounters.
Jury instruction error was harmless
The jury was instructed that a traffic stop is unreasonable under the 4th Amendment when ever it is affected by a law enforcement officer without jurisdiction or authority. Also claimed error by instructing that a traffic stop could develop into an unreasonable detention without distinguishing between stops based on reasonable suspicion an stops based on probable cause. The 11th Circuit agreed that the district court erred by instructing that a traffic stop effected with out jurisdiction or authority is unreasonable and reversed four of the counts but it did not affect the remaining counts. The government presented evidence that House lacked authority to effect these seizures and House’s convictions for willful unreasonable seizures, standing alone, do not tell whether the jury found that House lacked probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the seizures underlying those convictions.