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United States v. Laney

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 20, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
ALVIN BRENT LANEY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter comes before the Court on appeal from the judgment of conviction and sentence of United States Magistrate Judge Stephan M. Vidmar. The Appellant, Defendant Laney, was convicted at a bench trial of failing to stop a vehicle when directed to do so by United States Forest Service (USFS) Law Enforcement Officer Christopher Mandrick (FSO Mandrick) in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 261.10(m).[1] Judge Vidmar sentenced the Defendant to penalties in the amount of $135.[2] Having reviewed the appeal and briefs, the Court affirms the judgment of conviction and sentence entered by Judge Vidmar.

         I. Standard of Review.

         “A defendant may appeal a magistrate judge's judgment of conviction or sentence to a district judge within 14 days of its entry.” F . R. C . P. 58(g)(2)(B). “The defendant is not ED RIM[3] entitled to a trial de novo by a district judge. The scope of the appeal is the same as in an appeal to the court of appeals from a judgment entered by a district judge.” Fed. R. Crim. P. 58(g)(2)(D).

         The Court will review de novo the sufficiency of the evidence upon which a defendant was convicted, considering only whether a reasonable jury could find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt based on the direct and circumstantial evidence, taken with the reasonable inferences drawn from such evidence, and viewed in the light most favorable to the government. United States v. McCane, 573 F.3d 1037, 1046 (10th Cir. 2009) (quotation omitted). Instead of examining the evidence in parts, the Court “evaluate[s] the sufficiency of the evidence by considering the collective inferences to be drawn from the evidence as a whole.” United States v. Bader, 678 F.3d 858, 873 (10th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Moreover, the Court's review of the evidence presented by the government at trial is “highly deferential” and does not involve assessing witness credibility or weighing conflicting evidence, as those tasks are reserved for the jury. United States v. Bowen, 527 F.3d 1065, 1076 (10th Cir. 2008).

         II. Background.

         On July 20, 2016, Defendant appeared for a bench trial before Judge Vidmar to face charges for interfering with a forest officer under 36 C.F.R. § 261.3(a)[4] (Count 1) and failing to stop a vehicle when directed by a forest officer in violation of 36 C.F.R. § 261.10(m) (Count 2). (Doc. 58 at 7). Judge Vidmar found Defendant not guilty of Count 1, but guilty of Count 2. Id.

         On the afternoon of January 11, 2015, FSO Mandrick was on duty and traveling southbound on United States Highway 180 (Highway 180) in the Gila National Forest in a fully- marked USFS patrol vehicle. (Doc. 57 at 13-14). Near mile marker 15, FSO Mandrick observed a brown Ford pickup truck approaching from behind him at a high rate of speed. Id. at 16. The vehicle “tailgated” FSO Mandrick's patrol vehicle for approximately four miles before passing FSO Mandrick and another vehicle that was in front of FSO Mandrick near mile marker 19. Id. at 18-19. FSO Mandrick activated his patrol vehicle's overhead lights and the vehicle directly in front of FSO Mandrick immediately pulled over and stopped. Id. at 20. FSO Mandrick accelerated and continued pursuing the brown Ford. Id. He also activated his patrol vehicle's sirens. Id. Near mile marker 21, the driver of the brown Ford (identified as Defendant) crossed the oncoming lane of traffic and finally pulled over on the left side of the road near a parked Catron County sheriff's deputy. Id. at 21. The entire interaction between FSO Mandrick and Defendant took place within the boundaries of the Gila National Forest. Id. at 11.

         III. Defendant's Argument.

         Defendant alleges that Judge Vidmar erred as a matter of law by failing to evaluate whether FSO Mandrick had the proper authority to stop Defendant on Highway 180. (Doc. 58 at 7-8). Although Highway 180 runs through USFS land, it is not specifically designated as a “National Forest System road or trail” pursuant to 36 C.F.R. § 261.2. (Doc. 58 at 4). The parties agree that the prohibition against “[f]ailing to stop a vehicle when directed to do so by a Forest Officer” applies when the act occurs in the National Forest System or on a National Forest System road or trail, and when the act “affects, threatens, or endangers a person using, or engaged in the protection, improvement or administration of the National Forest System or a National Forest System road or trail.” 36 C.F.R. § 261.1(a)(1), (3).

         Defendant argues that because the regulations contain both the terms “National Forest System” and “National Forest System road, ” each term must be given a distinct and substantive effect. (Doc. 58 at 13) (emphasis added). In other words, “[i]f a Forest Service officer had authority to effect a stop for any reason on any road that ran through a National Forest - despite such road being established as a county or state road - the inclusion of ‘National Forest System road' in section 261.1 would be unnecessary” and “the use of the phrase ‘National Forest System' would then be sufficient to confer authority and jurisdiction on such Forest Service officers in any part of a National Forest regardless of a road's separate status.” Id. (emphasis added). Defendant claims that because U.S. Highway 180 is neither a “National Forest System road, ” nor part of the “National Forest System, ” FSO Mandrick did not have any authority to stop Defendant. Id. at 9 (emphasis added). Defendant asserts that the government failed to prove that FSO Mandrick had proper authority for the stop, which was an essential element of the offense for which Defendant was convicted; therefore, his conviction should be overturned and the case dismissed. Id. at 7.

         IV. Analysis.

         a. Whether FSO Mandrick Had The Authority To Stop Defendant.

         Defendant attempts to distinguish the facts of this case from the limited available case law, arguing that Defendant's acts occurred on a state-owned and controlled highway, not on National Forest System lands, i.e. National Forest System or National Forest System road or trail. (Doc. 58 at 10) (emphasis added). In Parker, one of the only cases on point, a defendant was convicted of two counts of conducting a “work activity or service” on USFS land without proper authorization and one count of interfering with a FSO engaged in the performance of his duties. United States v. Parker, 761 F.3d 986 (9th Cir. 2014). According to Defendant, the Court found jurisdiction and authority in Parker based on the fact that the activities took place on “National Forest land at the side of the Salmon la Sac highway.” (Doc. 58 at 10) (citing Parker, 761 F.3d at 990-91). Defendant also argues that in the present case, there is no “nexus between Defendant's alleged activity and protection of the Forest system, nor did the Court even evaluate this critical element even though the matter was thoroughly briefed.” Id. at 11.

         Defendant applies the law in Parker far too narrowly. First, the Forest Service has broad authority to regulate federal lands. United States v. Vogler, 859 F.2d 638, 641 (9th Cir. 1988). Second, the Court in Parker concluded that, “[t]he prohibitions of Part 261 apply when an act or omission occurs in the National Forest System…” Parker, 761 F.3d at 989 (9th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted) (emphasis added). Third, “[i]t is well established that the Property Clause of the Constitution grants to the United States power to regulate conduct on non federal lands when reasonably necessary to protect adjacent federal property…” Id. at 990 (internal quotation omitted) (emphasis added). As the Ninth Circuit specifically explained in Parker, a right-of-way or an easement could remove a road from the definition of a “National Forest System road, ” without depriving the USFS of authority over the road. Id. “[E]xempting roads subject to an easement from the definition of ‘National Forest System road or trail' was expressly meant not to ‘in any way affect the Forest Service's jurisdiction to enforce traffic laws, to protect NFS lands underlying routes, or to regulate use, including use on valid rights-of-way.'” Id. (quoting Travel Management; ...


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