Flores-Figueroa v. United States

556 U.S. 646, 129 S. Ct. 1886 (2009)

 

RULE:

There is a mandatory consecutive two-year prison term for a defendant convicted of certain crimes if, during (or in relation to) the commission of those crimes, he knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person. 18 U.S.C.S. § 1028A(a)(1). The statute requires the government to show that the defendant knew that the "means of identification" he or she unlawfully transferred, possessed, or used, in fact, belonged to "another person."

FACTS:

Defendant had presented to his employer counterfeit Social Security and alien registration cards, which contained identification numbers that had been assigned to other people. Defendant argued that, under § 1028A(a)(1), the government was required to prove that defendant knew that the numbers on the documents in fact belonged to other people, while the government claimed that no such proof was necessary. The government argued that "knowingly" as used in § 1028A(a)(1) did not modify the words "of another person," but ordinary English grammar suggested that the word "knowingly" applied to all of the subsequently listed elements of the crime. 

ISSUE:

Does the statute require the Government to show that the defendant knew that the "means of identification" he or she unlawfully transferred, possessed, or used, in fact, belonged to "another person?"

ANSWER:

Yes.

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.

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