Supreme Court docket Narrows the Attain of an Aggravated Identification Theft Regulation


The Supreme Court docket on Thursday narrowed the scope of a federal law that adds two years of prison to varied felonies if id theft is concerned, unanimously ruling that the federal government had interpreted what can rely too broadly.

The case centered on a Texas man, David Dubin, who was convicted of overbilling Medicaid for a psychological companies agency. As a result of he submitted an inflated declare utilizing a affected person’s Medicaid quantity, prosecutors satisfied a choose that the legislation on aggravated id theft utilized, and Mr. Dubin obtained an extended jail sentence.

However in a 21-page opinion joined by seven of her colleagues, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote {that a} defendant’s misuse of one other particular person’s id have to be “on the crux of what makes the underlying offense legal, somewhat than merely an ancillary characteristic of a billing technique.” She rejected the federal government’s extra sweeping interpretation that the legislation lacked any restrict.

Beneath the federal government’s studying, she wrote, “so long as a billing or fee technique employs one other particular person’s identify or different figuring out data, that’s sufficient. A lawyer who rounds up her hours from 2.9 to 3 and payments her consumer electronically has dedicated aggravated id theft. The identical is true of a waiter who serves flank steak however fees for filet mignon utilizing an digital fee technique.”

“The textual content and context of the statute don’t assist such a boundless interpretation,” she added.

Congress enacted the legislation, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, in 2004. It says that for a listing of felonies, whoever “knowingly transfers, possesses or makes use of, with out lawful authority, a method of identification of one other particular person shall, along with the punishment offered for such felony, be sentenced to a time period of imprisonment of two years.”

A House Judiciary Committee report on the time justified it by citing the frequency of id theft when individuals opened bank card or utility accounts in another person’s identify and warned that such a tactic may assist terrorists. Some Democrats opposed the invoice due to the obligatory minimal sentence.

However the legislation has proved problematic for an additional cause: Congress left unclear what sorts of misuses of different individuals’s technique of identification ought to set off the legislation. Whereas Mr. Dubin’s case doesn’t fall squarely inside an odd understanding of “id theft,” each a district courtroom and appeals courtroom had dominated that it match throughout the statute’s textual content.

Even with the brand new check established by the bulk on Thursday, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, in a concurring opinion, expressed fear that decrease courts would nonetheless battle to interpret the obscure wording of the statute. He urged Congress to make clear the legislation, writing that it alone may repair the matter.

“Till it does, I worry the problems which have lengthy plagued decrease courts will persist,” he added. “And I cannot be shocked if sometime, possibly sometime quickly, they discover their approach again right here.”


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