Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Hunt: Affirming police officer's false report obstruction conviction

In U.S. v. Hunt, No. 06-16641 (May 5, 2008), the Court affirmed a conviction and sentence for making a false entry in a police report with the intent to impede an FBI investigation.
Hunt, a Prichard, Alabama police officer, was involved in an arrest where he threw the person to the ground, causing injury and permanent hearing loss. In his police report, however, Hunt stated (falsely) that he had been grabbed first by the person under arrest.
The Court rejected the argument that the statute of conviction, 18 U.S.C. § 1519, was unconstitutionally vague. Though the statute was passed as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, its application need not be cabined to the corporate malfeasance at which the Act was targeted, so long as the plain language does not produce absurd results.
Citing the language of § 1519, the Court also rejected the argument that the statute contemplated only alterations of a pre-existing document, not, as here, the making of a false entry upon a document’s creation.
The Court also rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence on the question of whether Hunt intended to obstruct an FBI investigation. The Court noted a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence – including the fact that Hunt stuck to his false story more than a year after the incident – from which the jury could reasonably infer the intent element.
The Court rejected Hunt’s challenge to his sentence of five months imprisonment, followed by five months of supervised release, noting that the district court had noted, reasonably, the need to deter other police officers from filing false reports.