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An aggravated identity theft conviction upheld on circumstantial evidence the defendant knew the false identity belonged to a real person

In U.S. v. Doe, the defendant John Doe went to the Miami passport agency office to apply for a passport presenting drivers license, birth certificate and other identifying documents in the name of Laurn Daniel Lettsome. Doe was not Lettsome. When the passport agency official became suspicious, Doe was asked to return with more identification document. He then returned and suspecting fraud, the passport officials located the real Lettsome and discovered he was not the person who had applied for a passport. The defendant was called “John Doe” in this case because the government claimed it did not know his true identity.

Doe was charged with making a false statement in a passport application and two counts of aggravate identity theft. Doe pled guilty to making a false statement in a passport application but went to trial on the aggravated identity theft, claiming that the government failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Doe knew the false identification he was using belonged to a real person. The aggravated identity theft conviction provides for a mandatory two year sentence for possessing an identification of another person.

In the benchmark decision of Flores-Figueroa, the U.S. Supreme Court required the government to show the defendant knew the identification used belonged to another person. The Supreme Court acknowledged there were many ways the government could show this through circumstantial evidence. Following this decision, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an aggravated identity theft conviction where it was shown the defendant had been successful in obtaining a drivers license or passport using the victim’s personal information. There was no need to show the defendant had knowledge of the rigorous verification process.

Here, the appellate court found circumstantial evidence that Doe knew the identification belonged to a real person by Doe’s repeated and successful testing of the authenticity of the victim’s identifying information prior to the crime, and by his using the birth certificate and social security card to obtain drivers license in two jurisdictions – the Virgin Islands and from the state of Florida. Doe also opened a bank account and obtained a credit card in the false name.

Even though the government did not present direct evidence that Doe knew of the verification process to which he subjected Lettsomes’ identifying documentation, the Eleventh Circuit precedent makes clear that it was not required to do so. A rational jury could have inferred based on ordinary human experience that federal and state governments routinely verify the authenticity of the identifying documentation. Also, the passport application say that documents and statements presented are all subjected to verification. Doe’s conduct could be understood to mean that he had unfaltering confidence in his ability to obtain a U.S. passport using Lettsome’s identification.

Evidenced showed Doe showed no trepidation about the possibility that Lettsome’s identifying information (his Virgin Islands D.L. and Florida D.L.) were not genuine. A rational jury could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Doe never doubted for a moment that Lettsome identifying information belonged to a real person. Otherwise, the increased scrutiny from an official, on Doe’s first visit to the passport agency would have given Doe great pause about continuing the effort to obtain a passport.

Identity fraud like mail fraud and mortgage fraud are serious offenses that have life changing consequences. If you or someone you know has been arrested, is being investigated, or is accused of committing any type do fraud, you need an attorney to represent you who has the experience and expertise in criminal law to handle the problem.

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