On May 4, 2009 the Supreme Court in an unanimous decision declared that in order to be a crime for identity theft, the person must know that he is stealing the identity of another person. Flores Figueroa V United States No. 08-108.
Mr. Ignacio Flores Figueroa entered the US illegally from Mexico and presented his employer with a false social security card, and green card bearing his name. He did not know that the numbers belonged to real persons. The Government charged him with aggravated identity theft crime. But in the US, a crime must have a mental (mens rea) component to it. For instance, if a person is insane and does not know right from wrong, and commits a murder, she cannot be held criminally liable. In order to commit a crime, a person should must have the intention to commit the crime.
The Supreme Court pointed out that in most cases proving that the user knew the identity of the person stolen is not difficult. But the documents that Flores produced had his (Flores’) name on it. He did not know, that the number belonged to a real person in the United States.
People who had their identity stolen will obviously be outraged. But we have a long standing tradition in this country that a crime has to have a mental component. If we let this tradition slip, we will have to jail people who unintentionally commit a crime. The State has no moral authority to take away the liberty of people for their unintentional act. Stolen identity can be restored, although this may be a painful process. But taking away the liberty of a person violates the very principle of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the United States was founded upon. I applaud this unanimous decision by the Supreme Court.
Contact Houston Immigration Lawyer, Annie Banerjee for more details