Thursday, July 05, 2012

Statements to a probation officer fall outside the "judicial proceeding" exception to the false statement statute

In United States v. Vreeland, No. 10-1033/1034 (June 29, 2012), the Sixth Circuit held that statements made to a probation officer fall within the reach of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a), which prohibits making a false statement in relation to a matter within United States jurisdiction. 

The statute explicitly "does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party's counsel," for statements made "to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding."  18 U.S.C. § 1001(b). 

Vreeland was charged with making false statements to his probation officer during a routine meeting.  He argued that because the statements pertained to his ongoing supervised release, and because "it was inevitable that the statements would be submitted to the court," the statute's reference to "a judge or magistrate" should be read to include a probation officer, at least in these circumstances.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed, finding that in this setting, "the probation officer's function [w]as more than merely a 'conduit' to the trial court" because the officer was responsible for overseeing Vreeland's compliance and had to exercise independent judgment in deciding whether to seek revocation of Vreeland's supervision.  In this context, at least, the exception to Section 1001 did not apply.  Importantly, however, the court reserved judgment on the question of whether the same would be true of a probation officer in a presentence interview setting.

The court also rejected Vreeland's argument that his statements to the probation officer were compelled in violation of the Fifth Amendment, crediting the district court's factual finding that Vreeland was not in custody and that the probation officer did not threaten Vreeland with arrest or violation of his supervision.

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