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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned the conviction of the former Capitol Police officer who left a powdery substance at his post after the anthrax attacks in late 2001.

In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel agreed with James Pickett, who had been found guilty of making false statements, that the District Court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the case before it went to trial. Appellate Judges David Sentelle, Judith Rogers and A. Raymond Randolph dismissed the indictment on the grounds that the government failed “to allege an essential element of the offense.”

It is established law, the court wrote, that an indictment must “contain the elements of the offense intended to be charged.”

Sentelle and Randolph determined that the indictment didn’t meet that standard because the false statement charge didn’t fall within the parameters of the govering statute. When revising the law in 1996, Congress circumscribed its application in the legislative branch to include only two areas: administrative matters and investigation or review. Sentelle and Randolph ruled that government was incorrect to assert that either was applicable in this case.

In November 2001, shortly after a letter containing anthrax was sent to Capitol Hill, Pickett left a note and the contents of an Equal sweetener packet at his post in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel. The note read: “Please inhale. Yes this could be? Call your doctor for flu symptoms. This is a Capitol Police training exercize [sic]! I hope you pass!”

The appeals court agreed to hear Pickett’s case in March 2003, a month after a U.S. District judge sentenced him to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service. The sentence was suspended pending appeal. Pickett was terminated from the force after a jury convicted him in November 2002 of making false statements, the more serious of the two counts he faced.

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