A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal crime of aggravated identity theft makes it harder for the government to obtain a conviction for that crime. Several months ago, we wrote about how the U.S. government was using the federal crime of aggravated identity theft as a tool to deport illegal immigrants who often obtain fake social security numbers and cards when they enter the country. The federal crime of aggravated identity theft occurs when a person knowingly and without authority uses a means of identification of another person. For instance, law enforcement officials often arrest suspected illegal immigrants for using or possessing fake social security cards with fake social security numbers on them. However, since this criminal law requires that a person “knowingly” use the identification card of another, there was a question as to whether the law required a person to know that the social security number actually belonged to another person. The government’s position, of course, was that the law did not impose such a requirement for a conviction. Criminal defense attorneys argued that the government must prove that the defendant knew the social security number actually belonged to another person.
The U.S. Supreme Court appears to have sided with the criminal defense lawyers. If a person is arrested for the federal crime of aggravated identity theft for possessing or using a fake social security card, the government must prove that the defendant knew the social security number belonged to another person. Now, for a person who has a specific victim in mind and obtains his/her social security number and/or other personal information, this ruling may not be of much benefit. However, for someone, such as an illegal alien, who comes into the country and purchases a fake social security card with nine random numbers on it with no conception of whether they form an actual, assigned social security number, this ruling makes it very difficult to convict that person of the federal crime of aggravated identity theft. It also makes it difficult for law enforcement authorities to charge illegal immigrants with a serious felony that makes it easier to deport them.