Friday, November 15, 2013

Flores-Figueroa v. United States case brief

Flores-Figueroa v. United States case brief summary
129 S.Ct. 1886 (2009)

Defendant was convicted under 8 U.S.C.S. § 1325(a) of entering the United States without inspection, under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1546(a) of misusing immigration documents, and under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1028A(a)(1) of aggravated identity theft. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari as to defendant's conviction under § 1028A(a)(1).

Defendant had presented to his employer counterfeit Social Security and alien registration cards, which contained identification numbers that had been assigned to other people. Defendant argued that, under § 1028A(a)(1), the government was required to prove that defendant knew that the numbers on the documents in fact belonged to other people, while the government claimed that no such proof was necessary.


  • Resolving a split in the circuits, the Supreme Court held that § 1028A(a)(1) required proof that defendant knew that the means of identification he unlawfully transferred, possessed, or used belonged to another person. 
  • The government argued that "knowingly" as used in § 1028A(a)(1) did not modify the words "of another person," but ordinary English grammar suggested that the word "knowingly" applied to all of the subsequently listed elements of the crime. 
  • The potential difficulty of proving such knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt did not compel use of the government's interpretation of the statute, as intent was generally not difficult to prove in the classic case of identity theft. Enforceability concerns were insufficient to outweigh the clarity of the statutory text.

The court of appeals' judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. 9-0 decision; 2 concurrences in part and in the judgment.

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