Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Aggravated ID Theft Requires Use of Specific Person's Information

US v. Mitchell: Mitchell undertook a scheme in which he bought merchandise with a fake ID using counterfeit checks and later returned the items for cash refunds. The name on the checks and the fake ID was "Marcus Jackson" who had a specific listed address. Mitchell was charged with bank fraud and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded guilty to the fraud charge, but had a bench trial on the identity theft, testifying that he didn't know anyone named "Marcus Jackson" and got the name out of a phone book. Although police did identify two Marcus Jacksons in the state, neither address matched the one on the ID and checks. Mitchell argued that to secure a conviction for aggravated identity theft, the Government had to prove the use of another specific person's identity, while the Government argued that it was sufficient that someone with the same name was located as a potential victim. The court convicted Mitchell.

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit reversed. The court held that the plain meaning of 18 USC 1028A requires the use of a means of identification that "may be used to identify a specific individual." Ordinarily, a name standing alone would not be sufficient to meet that requirement. While a couple of other bits of information on the fake ID matched one of the real Marcus Jacksons, they were so vague as to not show that Mitchell was presenting himself as a real Marcus Jackson. Because only the name in this case could be traced to a specific person, the Government failed to meet its burden of proof. Mitchell's conviction was reversed and his case remanded for resentencing.

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