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United States v. Nakhleh

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 17, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Ramess Nakhleh, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:17-mc-50667-01-Mark A. Goldsmith, District Judge.

          Colleen P. Fitzharris, FEDERAL DEFENDER OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Benjamin C. Coats, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Before: COLE, Chief Judge; SUTTON and LARSEN, Circuit Judges.


          COLE, CHIEF JUDGE.

         We have all been frustrated at one time or another by red tape. Fewer of us have grown frustrated because of tape in a more literal sense. But it was tape-or, really, the lack of tape-that sparked the encounter we consider in this matter. Upset by postal employees and their refusal to provide him with tape to seal a box, Ramess Nakhleh engaged in an escalating series of acts that distracted postal workers, interfered in their ability to serve customers, and culminated in an implied bomb threat and the post office's brief closure. In so doing, Nakhleh violated a regulation prohibiting disturbances in a post office-in particular, a regulation that prohibits "conduct that creates loud and unusual noise" in a post office or that otherwise impedes or disturbs postal operations. We affirm.


         Nakhleh walked into a Highland Park post office two years ago on a mission that is, at least for now, routine for many of us: he wanted to mail a package. With his package in hand, he marched to the counter, put his package in a window, and told the postal employee that he wanted to return his box to the sender. Three problems stood in his way.

         The first problem: the package was still open. After Nakhleh put his box in the window, one postal employee told him that he would have to tape his box closed to send it. Nakhleh had "tons of tape in [his] house" but did not have tape with him, and the postal employee told him that she could not give him tape for free. Trial Tr., R. 2, PageID 67. The post office sold tape, but one of the employees advised Nakhleh that it would be cheaper to buy tape elsewhere. Heeding this advice, Nakhleh left the post office to buy tape, returned, and after seeking reimbursement for the tape (unsuccessfully), sealed his package.

         Solving the first problem, however, gave rise to a second: Nakhleh had lost his shipping label. A postal worker advised Nakhleh (correctly, it would turn out) to check for the label inside the now-sealed box. Nakhleh took a moment to accuse the workers of deliberately hiding it, but he eventually accepted the suggestion to look inside the box, where he found the label.

         Then came the third problem: Nakhleh refused to touch the label and affix it to the box because, in his words, "it's got pollutant on it." Id. at 34. One of the postal workers told Nakhleh that they could not accept the package unless he affixed the label to it and resealed it, but he still refused. Another customer eventually affixed the label and taped the box together. Nakhleh advised him, "Hey, man, you better wash your hands because it's pollutant on the label." Id. at 36.

         After all this, the post office processed Nakhleh's package, and Nakhleh left. He had not gone far, though, when he decided to return. Upset-and armed with an audio recorder which he used to record a portion of his interaction-Nakhleh went back to the window at the counter and asked for his package. When an employee told him that she could not return his package because it had already been processed, Nakhleh became loud and irate. He walked back and forth among the windows at the postal counter, taking photos and asking employees for their names. Because of Nakhleh's behavior, the employees were unable to serve other customers in the post office. One employee, witnessing Nakhleh's "belligerent" behavior, called the police.

         Things escalated. When the police arrived and asked Nakhleh what he needed from his package, Nakhleh replied (twice), "What if it's a bomb?" Id. at 16. After that statement, the police arrested Nakhleh and evacuated the post office. The post office was closed to customers for two hours while a Postal Inspector examined the package and concluded it did not contain a bomb. That same Inspector interviewed Nakhleh, who acknowledged that he understood the statement "was a bad decision" and said that he made it out of frustration. Id. at 63.

         Nakhleh was presented with a violation notice charging him with causing a disturbance in a post office, a violation of 39 C.F.R. § 232.1(e) made criminal by 18 U.S.C. § 3061(c)(4)(B). After a one-day bench trial, he was found guilty by a magistrate judge, sentenced to six months' probation with anger management treatment, ...

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