Sunday, April 13, 2008

Case o' The Week: Lying to Probation Not A Crime (in the Ninth), Horvath

O.K. -- a defendant shouldn't lie to a Probation Officer . . . but is it really a crime to do so? Not in the Ninth, when the lie is about information that must be reported as part of the PSR process and the government charges a "false statement" under 18 USC Section 1001. See United States v. Horvath, __ F.3d __, 2008 WL 943951 (9th Cir. April 9, 2008), Ord. Denying Rehearing En Banc, order available here.

Players: Judge Graber authors original decision, Rymer dissents. 

Judge Graber writes denial of rehearing order, joined by Wardlaw, Gould, and Paez.

Chief Judge Kozinski, and Judges Bea, O’Scannlain, Kleinfeld, Tallman, Bybee and Callahan dissent from denial of rehearing.
Facts: During a federal PSR interview, Horvath claimed that he had served with distinction in the Marine Corps. United States v. Horvath,  492 F.3d 1075, 1076 (9th Cir. 2007). Partly because of this service, the judge imposed a lenient sentence. Id

In fact, Horvath lied about his Marine service. When this was discovered (after sentencing) he was indicted for making a false statement to a probation officer under 18 USC § 1001. Id. at 1076-77. Horvath moved to dismiss the indictment for failing to state an offense; when that was denied, he entered a conditional plea. Id. at 1077. 

In July of ‘07, Judges Graber and Pregerson reversed, in the holding recounted below. Id. at 1076. A Ninth Circuit judge sought rehearing en banc.

Issue(s): “We must decide whether the exception in § 1001(b) for ‘statements . . . submitted by [a] party . . . to a judge’ encompasses a false statement submitted to the judge in a presentence report (“PSR”), when the defendant in a criminal proceeding made the false statement to the probation officer during the defendant’s presentence interview, rather than to the judge directly.” Id. at 1076 (emphasis added). 

Held: “We hold that when, but only when, the probation officer is required by law to include such a statement in the PSR and to submit the PSR to the judge, the statement falls within the exception in § 1001(b).” Id

Of Note: The votes of Judges Graber and Pregerson are interesting in Horvath. First, on criminal cases Judge Graber seems more frequently among the company of these en banc dissenters. See, e.g., United States v. Davenport, __ F.3d __, 2008 WL 732491 (9th Cir. Mar. 20, 2008) (Graber, J., dissenting), blog available here

And Judge Pregerson is deservedly proud of his distinguished service as a Marine (as are Judges Tashima, Hawkins, and Beezer). Horvathlied about receiving the purple heart commendation while in service; Judge Pregerson earned the real deal when he was shot and severely wounded on Okinawa. Judge Pregerson’s vote to reverse the conviction in Horvath is commendable – this particular lie by the defendant must have been particularly galling.  (Just a guess -- not a former clerk, inside-insight).

     The order denying rehearing en banc is worth a read, because it reveals a spectrum of views of Probation in the Ninth. For the majority (which includes Graber, Wardlaw, Gould and Paez), a P.O. who reports core information in a PSR is serving as the “eyes and ears” of the Court. If a lie to the Court isn’t a § 1001 “false statement,” neither is a lie to the P.O. Horvath, 2008 WL 943951, *2-*3. (Query whether Judges Pregerson’s, Wardlaw’s and Paez’s previous district court experiences provide special insight into the role of P.O.’s ?)

     By contrast, a conservative block of dissenters protest that P.O.’s actively evaluate information included in a PSR, and are not mere conduits of information to the sentencing court. Id. at *3. Only Judge Kleinfeld previously served as a district court judge in this block. (President W. Bush has not looked to district courts for his Ninth nominees).

How to Use: In his dissent, Judge Bea proclaims, “The majority’s holding encourages defendants to lie during the presentence investigation.” Id. at *8. True – for a truly stupid and foolish defendant. A lie to Probation could easily cost two “obstruction” levels. See USSC § 3C1.1. Such a lie could also jeopardize the three “acceptance” levels. See § 3E1.1 comment. n.1(a). Finally, such a lie could sour a § 3553(a) sentence in ways that would be undetectable (and essentially unreviewable). The dissent is unpersuasive: as any savvy district judge (and prudent defense attorney) knows, even if § 1001 is unavailable there are still plenty of hammers left with which to pound a defendant who lies to a Probation Officer.

For Further Reading: The dissenters rely heavily on a Probation Manual from “jnet” (a secure website not available outside of the judiciary). Id. at *6, citing  This is “Monograph 107,” Probation’s bible, and is a revealing read if you can talk a P.O. or AFPD into sharing a copy (it is also available at district court libraries). 

Steven Kalar, Senior Litigator N.D. Cal. FPD. Website at


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Blogger Greg May said...

This guy better hoppe he doesn't run across any real Marines.

Monday, April 14, 2008 10:09:00 AM  

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