Top Court to Hear Immigrant's Appeal in Identity-Theft Case

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Supreme Court accepted a case yesterday that could impact the government's crackdown on illegal immigration, agreeing to review whether prosecutors must prove that defendants in aggravated identity-theft cases knew they were victimizing real people.

The justices will hear the appeal of Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican illegal immigrant who used false identification to get a job at a steel plant. He was convicted of aggravated identity theft, a charge created in 2004 that carries a mandatory two-year prison term. It is increasingly being used against those picked up in federal raids on work sites that employ illegal immigrants.

Flores-Figueroa argued that the government failed to prove that he knew the fraudulent documents belonged to a real person as opposed to being fabricated. Lower courts in the case, accepting the Justice Department's position, ruled that the government did not have to prove that.

Overall, three appellate courts have rendered decisions backing the government; three have ruled otherwise. The Supreme Court is expected to resolve the dispute.

A loss for the government, experts said, would devastate its ability to use aggravated identity-theft charges against illegal immigrants because most of them do not know whether their fake IDs belong to someone else.

-- Jerry Markon

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