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Supreme Court narrows identify-theft law in immigration case

To prove aggravated identify theft – which brings a mandatory two years in jail – prosecutors must show defendants knew their fake IDs belonged to a real person.

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A Mexican citizen who used false identification to live and work illegally in the US cannot face an additional two years in prison for aggravated identity theft unless he knew his fake ID belonged to a real person, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In a unanimous decision, the justices said the government failed to prove that Ignacio Flores-Figueroa knew his fraudulent document numbers belonged to an actual person.

The decision makes it harder for federal prosecutors to use the aggravated identity theft statute to boost prison sentences in undocumented immigrant cases.

Instead, prosecutors must now prove that the defendant knew that the numbers on the identification documents he or she presented were assigned to real people.

The law requires a mandatory minimum two years in prison in addition to any other sentence for anyone who "knowingly … uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person."

Mr. Flores had worked illegally in the US for six years with documents containing a false name and birth date, fake Social Security number, and counterfeit alien registration card.

In 2006, he submitted a new set of documents to his employer. This time he used his real name. The numbers on his Social Security card and alien registration card were not simply made up. They were numbers that had been assigned to other people.

Flores was charged with illegal entry into the US and with misusing immigration documents. In addition, because the numbers on his documents belonged to real people he was also charged with aggravated identity theft.

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