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Whoever files, attempts to file, or conspires to file, in any public record or in any private record which is generally available to the public, any false lien or encumbrance against the real or personal property of an individual described in 18 U.S.C. section 1114, on account of the performance of official duties by that individual, knowing or having reason to know that such lien or encumbrance is false or contains any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both. Its legislative history explains that the statute is "intended to penalize individuals who seek to intimidate and harass Federal judges and employees by filing false liens against their real and personal property." Also, before allowing a defendant to represent himself, a district court must be satisfied that his waiver of appointed counsel is knowing and voluntary. A circuit court of appeals reviews the waiver determination de novo and affirms if the record shows either that the court adequately warned him or that, under all the circumstances, he knew and understood the dangers and disadvantages of self-representation.
Appellants Gregory Allen Davis and Michael Howard Reed irrationally believed that their membership in an unrecognized Indian tribe meant that they were not United States citizens subject to the jurisdiction of the federal courts. This belief led them into serious trouble. First, appellant threatened a district judge because he refused to dismiss federal drug charges against two other tribe members. Months later, when a district judge denied a motion to dismiss a firearm charge pending against appellant, his co-appellant filed a Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) financing statement listing said judge and acting United States Attorney as debtors and him as the secured party. After a three-day trial, a jury convicted appellants of conspiring to file and filing false liens in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1521. The jury also convicted appellant Reed of corruptly obstructing justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503(a), based on his earlier threats. On appeal, appellant Davis argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove a violation of § 1521. Both appellants argued that the district court violated their constitutional rights by allowing them to represent themselves at trial.
Were the convictions of the defendants proper?
The judgment was affirmed. The court held that Congress limited the prohibition in § 1521 to financial harassment - filings that harass by claiming rights to the property of public officials- not to all types of false public filings that might harass public agencies or officials in other ways. A reasonable jury could have found based on the collateral section of the financing statement that he filed a lien against the property of the judge and U.S. attorney and therefore violated § 1521. Also, the court found that having given the appropriate warnings and determined that the waiver of counsel was knowing and voluntary, the district court properly allowed defendants to exercise their constitutional right of self-representation.