Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tricking Agency Into Issuing Invalid Passport Supports Conviction

US v. Luke: A person claiming to be Luke's son applied for a passport in Philadelphia. Luke, a naturalized citizen, accompanied him to a subsequent interview. Although the applicant left during the interview when his identity was questioned, Luke remained and argued that the passport should be issued. When it was not, he left. Another suspicious passport application, made in Maryland, provided Luke's address as that of the applicant. During the subsequent investigation, Luke made several false statements about the alleged applicant and his knowledge of him. As a result of the investigation, Luke was charged with (among other things) conspiracy to commit identification document fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was convicted on both counts.

On appeal, Luke argued that the district court erred by denying his motion for a judgment of acquittal on the conspiracy count because his behavior did not fall within the ambit of the substantive offenses he was allegedly conspiring to commit. Specifically, he argued that the passports at issue could not have been "produced without lawful authority" where government employees simply produce genuine documents based on information they did not know to be false. In other words, if the applicant can trick the agency into issuing the passport, it was produced with lawful authority. Relying on earlier precedent, the Fourth Circuit rejected that argument. The court also rejected Luke's argument that he could not conspire to with an intent to defraud the United States because a falsely issued passport has no inherent value and did not deprive the government of anything of value.

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