Supreme Court Rules for Defendant in "Aggravated" Identity Theft Case

On May 4, 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled that the government must prove a defendant actually knew the identification document he was using belonged to another person to convict him of aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1).
The case, Flores-Figueroa v. U.S., involved a Mexican national who presented his employer with a forged Green Card and Social Security card.  The employer reported him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Mr. Flores-Figueroa was arrested and pleaded guilty to using a false document and entering the country illegally.
But on the aggravated identity theft counts, he pleaded not guilty, claiming that he did not know real people used his identity documents.  The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa saw it differently and convicted him anyway, sentencing him to 24 months imprisonment on those counts alone.
Justice Breyer, writing for the Court, reasoned that the government cannot convict a person for using a “something” when the person does not know exactly what that “something” is.  He compared it to convicting a person for drug possession if he steals a purse that happens to have drugs in it.
Last year, federal officials rounded up hundreds of undocumented immigrants in Iowa, charging many with “aggravated identity theft.”  The Court’s decision may limit the government’s ability to carry out similar prosecutions in the future.
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