United States v. Neal

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 01-12-2015
  • Case #: 12-10454
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge N.R. Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Ikuta and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

A violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1521 is triggered by the filing, attempting to file, or conspiring to file, a false lien or encumbrance, without regard to the validity of the documents at issue.

Denard Neal attempted to have another prisoner send a package while serving a sentence in the United States Penitentiary, Atwater (“USP-Atwater”). Inside the package were “various handwritten documents,” four of which were titled “Security Agreement Commercial Lien.” Neal was listed as the secured party and “fourteen USP-Atwater employees [were listed] as debtors” in the Security Agreements. A standardized Uniform Commercial Code Financing Statement accompanied each Security Agreement. Furthermore, within the package were instructions for Neal’s mother to type the documents and “correctly fil[e] the documents with the California Secretary of State and the County Recorder in Merced County on his behalf.” “Neal was charged with fourteen counts of attempting to file false liens and encumbrances against the real or personal property of fourteen officers and employees of USP-Atwater, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1521.” Neal represented himself at district court, claiming that “his liens were not criminal, because the USP-Atwater employees had engaged in various criminal activities causing him personal harm and losses,” and that the collateral listed was not “real or personal property.” Neal was convicted on all counts and timely appealed. The Ninth Circuit reviewed the sufficiency of the evidence for Neal’s conviction for plain error, along with Neal’s waiver of counsel and sentence. The panel determined that the evidence was sufficient to convict Neal because the validity of the documents was irrelevant, as “the harm the statute protects against arises from the nature of the documents.” Therefore, Neal’s act of “filing, attempting to file, or conspiring to file a false lien or encumbrance” triggered the violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1521, which the evidence supported. The panel therefore affirmed Neal’s conviction, along with Neal’s waiver of counsel and sentence, from which no plain error was found either. AFFIRMED.

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