MAY 04, 2009
The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that an illegal immigrant who used stolen documents to work is not guilty of identity theft because he didn’t know the information belonged to another person.
The ruling eliminates an important tool for prosecuting and deporting illegal aliens who victimize Americans by stealing their identities to get jobs in this country. In its 18-page decision the court says that the crime of identity theft is limited to those who actually know they stole someone else’s information.
Prosecutors must therefore prove that illegal immigrants who use false identification papers know they belong to another person to be convicted of identity theft. The Supreme Court ruling, which resolves conflicting appeals court decisions on the issue, overturns the aggravated identity theft conviction of a Mexican illegal immigrant (Ignacio Flores-Figueroa).
Flores-Figueroa had pleaded guilty to two counts of misuse of immigration documents and one count of illegally entering the United States. He was subsequently convicted on two counts of aggravated identity theft which added two years to the 51-month sentence for the previous crimes.
In 2000 the illegal alien used a fake name and Social Security number to get a job at an Illinois steal plant. In 2006, he told his employers that he wanted to use his real name and submitted new documents, including a Social Security number he bought in Chicago that belonged to someone else.
But in the High Court’s opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer writes that the law requires prosecutors to show that the defendant knew the counterfeit identification belonged to another person. The court agreed that the illegal immigrant could be charged with a misdemeanor for using an identification he knew was false, but he could not be charged with a felony of aggravated identity theft because he did not know he was using someone else’s Social Security number.
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