By Lee Davis
United States v. Vreeland
Everyone knows that a person has the right to remain silent when faced with questioning by police and most people understand that you have the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Perhaps fewer people know that it is a crime to lie to federal agents.
In Vreeland, the court was faced with these issues in the context of a man who lied to his probation officer during his monthly probation meeting. Vreeland denied knowing a man involved in a crime. He too was a suspect in this crime. His probation officer pressed on these facts. Vreeland's statements are what formed the basis of both a probation violation and the substantive new crime of lying to the PO--a federal agent. This is a novel issue in the Sixth Circuit.
In Vreeland the Court was face with two questions: whether his false statements to a probation officer during the course of a monthly supervisory meeting are protected by the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, and whether such statements fall within the “judicial function exception” to prosecution set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 1001(b). The answer to both questions is no.
The Court reasoned that:
We have held that “the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is not self-executing in the context of a meeting with a probation officer.” United States v. Miller, 910 F.2d 1321, 1326 (6th Cir. 1990) (holding that the defendant’s voluntary revelation to his probation officer during a presentence meeting that he regularly purchased cocaine to support his habit, resulting in the probation officer’s recalculation of the defendant’s base offense level and sentencing range for his drug offense, was not a compelled incrimination); see also United States v. Humphrey, 34 F.3d 551, 555 (7th Cir. 1994) (“[U]nless a state overtly threatens to revoke probation in retaliation for the legitimate exercise of the self-incrimination privilege, there is no reasonable basis for a probationer to believe that his Fifth Amendment rights are in jeopardy.”) (citing Murphy, 465 U.S. at 438).
As to the notion that these are protected communications that are not subject to prosecution, the Court rejected that idea.
A meeting between a probation officer and a defendant under supervision is not a “judicial proceeding” protected by § 1001(b) because it serves an administrative, not an adjudicative, function.
Vreeland received a two year sentence for lying to his PO and an additional two years for his probation violation.
The full opinion can be found here.