United States v. Jaensch, No. 10-5013

Decided Dec. 29, 2011

Richard Jaensch was convicted of using a false identification that “appear[ed] to be” issued by the United States government, a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(1). Specifically, Jaensch created an ID that declared him to be a diplomat subject to “Absolute Sovereignty” in the United States, including bypassing TSA security checkpoints at airports.

Jaensch appealed his conviction, claiming that the statute criminalizing his behavior was unconstitutionally vague because of the “appears to be” language of the statute. However, the Fourth Circuit rejected this argument because such inquiries are done as “as applied” challenges and given Jaensch’s mens rea in producing and using what he knew to be a false ID, the statute was not unconstitutional as applied to his circumstances. Moreover, the court affirmed the use of the “reasonable person” standard to determine whether the ID “appears to be” issued by the government.

Also, Jaensch appealed the district court’s denial of a Rule 29 Judgment of Acquittal. He argued that after a mistrial the government is not a prevailing party and therefore all evidence should be interpreted in a light most favorable to defendant. In a matter of first impression for the Circuit, the court disagreed and followed the Eleventh Circuit precedent of drawing conclusions in favor of the government for a Rule 29 motion regardless of whether it occurs after a jury conviction or mistrial. The court also disagreed with Jaensch’s arguments that his ID did not appear official, that the proper venue was not the Eastern District of Virginia, or that the government did not sufficiently prove that he was the one that produced it. Finally, the court held, following its own recent precedent, that aiding and abetting liability need not be separately alleged on a criminal complaint. With all of Jaensch’s arguments on appeal defeated, his convictions were affirmed.

Full Opinion

-C. Alexander Cable

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