Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, October 27, 2011

John Doe: "Unwavering Confidence" support Aggravated Identity Theft Conviction

In U.S. v. John Doe, No 09-15869 (Oct. 26, 2011), the Court held that there was sufficient evidence to sustain convictions for aggravated identity theft in connection with a passport application, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1).
Citing U.S. v. Gomez-Castro, 605 F.3d 1245 (11th Cir. 2010) and U.S. v. Holmes, 595 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2010), the Court noted that proof that a defendant "knowingly" used another person’s identity can be established based on circumstantial evidence such as the defendant’s prior use of this person’s identity to obtain a driver’s license or other identification. Here, John Doe had used the same person’s identity to obtain a Florida driver’s licence just months before attempting to use the identity to obtain a passport.
The Court also noted the defendant’s "unwavering confidence" in the accuracy of the identity he was using, as he returned to the Passport Agency, knowing that the Agency could have investigated whether the identifying information belonged to a real person.
Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected the argument that any misstatements the defendant gave about his name to a probation officer preparing a pretrial services report for a magistrate judge were "immaterial" to the prosecution, and therefore did not justify the imposition of a two-level "obstruction of justice" enhancement pursuant to USSG § 3C1.1. The Court noted that the "threshold for materiality is ‘conspicuously low’" with regard to § 3C1.1 enhancements. No actual, significant obstruction or hindrance is required.
The Court also rejected the argument that because pretrial services did not give him any Miranda warnings, the application of the enhancement violated the Fifth Amendment. The Court analogized an interview with pretrial services to "routine booking" questions where Miranda warnings are not required.