Appeals Court Sides With Whitefish Man Who Lied to Probation Officer

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A federal appeals court has denied the government’s request for another hearing in the case of a Whitefish man who lied to his probation officer about having served in the military and then was ordered by a judge to stand outside a courthouse wearing a sandwich board that said, “I am a liar. I am not a Marine.”

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously sided with the defendant, William “Cody” Horvath, and ordered that his conviction and sentence be thrown out.

Prosecutors asked for a rehearing before a larger panel of 9th Circuit judges, and in a decision issued Wednesday, the appeals court rejected that request.

Horvath’s attorney, Dan Wilson of Kalispell, said there won’t be a final order of dismissal in the case until all the appeals have run out. The government still has 90 days to petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kurt Alme of the U.S. attorney’s office in Billings said Wednesday that prosecutors are still considering what, if anything, they will do next.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the court’s decision, and we’re evaluating what our options are,” he said.

The case dates back to July 2001, when Horvath pleaded guilty to being a fugitive in possession of a firearm. During his change-of-plea hearing, Horvath stated that he had served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

A probation officer then interviewed Horvath, and Horvath again said he had been in the Marine Corps, adding that he received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Panama.

The Marine Corps told the probation officer there was no record of Horvath having ever served. Horvath then presented the probation officer with evidence of his time in the military, including a set of dog tags, court records said.

The probation officer included that information in a pre-sentence report, which the judge took into account when sentencing Horvath to probation.

More than four years later, the government determined Horvath lied about having served in the Marine Corps. It filed an indictment that charged Horvath with making false statements “when speaking to a probation officer preparing a pre-sentence report which would aid the court in determining his sentence.”

Horvath moved to dismiss the indictment, saying his conduct fell under an exception to the law that Congress created when it amended the statute in 1996.

He then pleaded guilty but reserved the right to appeal.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula eventually denied Horvath’s motion and sentenced him to four months of electronic monitoring and four years of probation. Molloy, a veteran, also ordered Horvath to stand outside the courthouse for 50 hours while wearing a sandwich board with large letters on the front that said: “I am a liar. I am not a Marine.”

On the back, the sandwich board was to say: “I have never served my country. I have dishonored veterans of all wars.”

Horvath appealed Molloy’s decision to the 9th Circuit, and in July 2007, a three-judge panel ruled in Horvath’s favor.

The panel agreed with Horvath that his false statements fell within an exception to the law because they were submitted to judge in the course of a judicial proceeding.

The panel remanded the case to the lower court “with instructions to vacate (the) defendant’s conviction and sentence.”

Wilson, Horvath’s attorney, said his client has completed the electronic-monitoring portion of his sentence for making false statements, and is in the process of serving the four years’ probation.

However, Horvath has not yet had to “march around the courthouse with a sandwich board” because Molloy agreed to postpone that portion of the sentence pending the appeal.

Wilson said the ordeal has been a “great source of shame” for his client, “and I think that was Judge Molloy’s intent.”