Flores-Figueroa v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Flores-Figueroa (Flores) (D) was convicted of the predicate crimes of illegal entry into the U.S. without inspection and misusing immigration documents, and aggravated identity theft. He pleaded that he could not be convicted of the latter crime since the government (P) had not proved his knowledge that he was using someone else’s identification at the time of the crime.

Facts of the case

Ignacio Flores-Figueroa was convicted on two counts of aggravated identity theft in a federal district court and sentenced to 75 months imprisonment. On appeal, he argued that his conviction was in error because the government did not prove he knew the identification he possessed belonged to another person. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s decision. It held the government need not prove Mr. Flores-Figueroa knew the identification he possessed belonged to another person.

Question

“If an individual is to be convicted of aggravated crime under 18 U.S.C. Section&nbsp

  • 1028(a)(1), must the government must first prove his knowledge&nbsp
  • that he was using someone’s else’s identification for the predicate crimes?”

    Answer

    “(Breyer, J.) Yes. If an individual is to be convicted of aggravated crime under 18 U.S.C. Section&nbsp

  • 1028(a)(1), the government must first prove his knowledge&nbsp
  • that he was using someone’s else’s identification for the predicate crimes. In ordinary English, the descriptive word knowingly is automatically applied to all following elements. A transitive verb which has an object is modified by the word knowingly in such a way that the entire action is changed. The Government could not provide any alternative usage of this kind of sentence which would illustrate its argument. Legal and criminal statutes are in the usual course meant to be understood as ordinary English would lead them to be understood. A phrase in a criminal law which uses the word knowingly before different elements of a crime would be read as applying the word to every separate element. Another argument of the Government is that in such a case a neighboring statute regarding terrorism would have to be understood separately though it used the same language, or that the language use in that statute was superfluous. However,&nbsp
  • the use of the word knowingly in relation to other people would not be unnecessary in the other statute. Finally, the Government argues that the purpose of the statute is served by its interpretation, and that using any other interpretation would pose implementation problems. This argument is not strong enough to overcome the ordinary meaning of the statute, which is to protect the rights of individuals whose identification is used by others to commit crimes, but this protection is not to be achieved by allowing a person to be wrongly convicted if he does not know that the identification he is using belongs to another real person. The language of the statute in using knowingly followed by a list of elements which are criminal, is also evidence that the intention was not to make practical enforcement easier.”

    Conclusion

    “Section 1028A(a)(1) requires the Government to show that the defendant knew that the means of identification at issue belonged to another person. As a matter of ordinary English grammar, “”knowingly”” is naturally read as applying to all the subsequently listed elements of the crime. Where a transitive verb has an object, listeners in most contexts assume that an adverb (such as “”knowingly””) that modifies the verb tells the listener how the subject performed the entire action, including the object. The Government does not provide a single example of a sentence that, when used in typical fashion, would lead the hearer to a contrary understanding. And courts ordinarily interpret criminal statutes consistently with the ordinary English usage.”

    • Case Brief: 2009
    • Petitioner: Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa
    • Respondent: United States
    • Decided by: Roberts Court

    Citation: 556 US _ (2009)
    Granted Oct 20, 2008
    Argued: Feb 25, 2009
    Decided: May 4, 2009