Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, June 22, 2012

House: Affirming Unconstitutional Seizure Convictions

In U.S. v.House, No. 10-15912 (June 20, 2012), in a 70-page opinion, the Court affirmed some convictions and reversed others, in a case involving a former officer of the Federal Protective Service pulling over motorists for unwarranted traffic stops in violation of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 242, and filing false incident reports, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
The Court rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence regarding the § 242 violations. The Court found that the government presented testimony establishing that House lacked probable cause to stop the motorists. In addition, House acted "under color of law," because he was wearing his uniform, and identified himself as a federal officer.
The Court also rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the false statement convictions, citing the testimony of House’s supervisor that incident reports are use to initiate criminal prosecutions, and it is "very important" that a report "include truthful information in relation to all of the facts of the case."
The Court held that a jury instruction that told the jury that it could find a seizure to be "unreasonable" solely because the officer did a traffic stop without jurisdiction or authority was erroneous. However, the error was harmless as to a number of counts. As to these counts, the jury convicted House of making false incident reports, thus rejecting House’s view that he had probable cause to make the traffic stops.