False Identity May Not Mean ID Theft in All Cases

Posted by Melanie Henson on Saturday, December 6th, 2008

If you use a fake identity, are you an identity thief? Lawyers will argue in the Supreme Court early next year (2009) that you may not be…if you didn’t realize the false ID was connected to a real person.

Immigrants and ID

It’s nowhere near as confusing as it sounds…and it’s a lot more commonplace than you’d think. Experts in the case Flores-Figueroa v. United States, which demands a two-year prison sentence for “knowingly” using another person’s identification, point out that purchasing false ID doesn’t mean the individual realizes it already belongs to another person.

In fact, many immigrants to the U.S. seek ID in order to be able to obtain work, experts argue. In doing so, they may assume the entire name itself–and the Social Security number–are entirely made up.

Rethinking the Law

Because the person may not be fully aware that the identification he or she is obtaining already belongs to another individual, Flores-Figueroa v. United States warrants rehashing, lawyers say.

This reasoning caused the Supreme Court to grant a review of Flores-Figueroa on Oct. 20, 2008. The case will be heard in early 2009, according to reports.

A Split Decision

Of course, obtaining and/or utilizing false ID is still a crime, not all of the law is up for reassessment, some circuits of the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled. These were split, with the 1st, 9th and DC circuits ruling that Flores-Figueroa may not apply if the defendant was unaware that he had stolen the ID of an actual person. The 4th, 8th and 11th circuits argued that the law should apply regardless.

The United States requested that the case be heard before the Supreme Court in order to resolve this difference.

What it May Mean

It’s difficult to project what a decision either way would mean to defendants, the people they obtained the ID from and how similar crimes will be prosecuted in the future. However, a revamping of false ID laws could result.

It might also mean harsher penalties for those found to be giving out and/or selling the false identification, as they stole the ID in the first place.

According to anti-crime experts and prosecutors, this could be good news for people concerned with their own identification being stolen and used and would follow the general trend over the past several years in which ID theft is taken more and more seriously.

On the other hand, for immigrants seeking work, the penalties may be similar even if the crimes of obtaining the fake ID and of knowing it is attached to a real individual were separated out.

In the meantime, identity theft continues to remain top on the agenda of many crime professionals who seek to make it more and more difficult for innocent people to become victims of this growing issue. As more related crimes go to the Supreme Court, ID theft may finally begin to receive the recognition–and serious crack-down–it needs.

Filed under Identity Theft

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