Friday, December 14, 2012

Identity Theft Statute Doesn't Cover Corporations

US v. HIlton: This appeal involves three Hiltons - Jimmy, Tamatha, and Jacqueline - who were convicted of a scheme to defraud a company where Tamatha worked.  Over the course of two years, the Hiltons cashed numerous checks written by customers to the business, taking about $655,000 in the process.  As part of the scheme, Jacqueline opened a bank account in her name, but falsely purporting to be the owner of the business.  Jimmy endorsed the stolen checks and filled out the deposit slips.  The various Hiltons were charged with 43 counts of fraud, money laundering, and identity theft.  They were convicted on all but one count.

On appeal, Jimmy and Jacqueline argued that their identity theft convictions must be reversed because the statute does not contemplate the theft of the identity of a corporation.  The statute refers only to the identification of "persons" and "specific individuals," which it does not define.  While the Dictionary Act defines "persons" as including corporations, it does not define "individual."  The court concluded that the context of the identity theft statute does not indicate whether "individual" would include corporations.  Noting the ambiguity and applying the rule of lenity, the court concluded that the statute cannot be read to include corporations and reversed Jimmy and Jacqueline's convictions on those counts.  It also vacated their sentences.

On all other grounds, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions, as well as Tamatha's sentence.  It rejected Tamatha's argument that the district court erred by rejecting her motion to suppress her post-arrest statements because she requested counsel, as well as Jimmy's argument that the district court erred by denying his motion to proceed pro se on the morning of jury selection.  The court also rejected Jimmy and Jacqueline's argument that there was insufficient evidence to support their mail theft convictions, as well as the arguments of all the Hiltons as to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their mail fraud affecting a financial institution convictions.

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