Laura Althouse withdraws guilty plea in wake of new US Supreme Court Ruling.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Monday limited federal prosecutors' use of an identity theft law against illegal immigrants, a ruling that would have limited the arrests made last May during the Agriprocessors raid in Postville.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bob Teig said Monday the ruling puts another burden on federal prosecutors in trying such cases, in that it changes what the government has to prove.
"We'll have to prove the (defendant) knew the identity belonged to an actual person," he said.
In the past and at the time of the Postville raid on May 12, federal prosecutors only had to prove the person knowingly used the identity of another, Teig said.
The ruling also prompted former Agriprocessors employee Laura Althouse, 38, of Postville, to withdraw her guilty plea to aggravated identify theft. Althouse, a former employee in the plant's human resources department, filed a motion Monday asking the U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids to allow her to withdraw her guilty plea, filed in October.
On May 12, 229 of the 308 arrested in the Agriprocessors raid faced identity theft charges, along with other charges, but pleaded to lesser charges. None was convicted of identity theft.
Identity theft carries a mandatory two-year prison sentence but the majority of those convicted on the lesser charges were deported without serving any prison time.
The government argued before the Supreme Court that prosecutors do not have to offer any proof that a defendant knew the false identification belonged to someone else and was not simply made up.
The high court rejected that argument Monday.
A unanimous court said the law that Congress adopted in 2004 to crack down on identity thieves requires that prosecutors be able to prove that defendants knew they were using ID numbers that belonged to real people.
Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the court, said intent is often easy to prove in what he called classic identity theft.
"Where a defendant has used another person's information to get access to that person's bank account, the government can prove knowledge with little difficulty," Breyer said.
But, he wrote, prosecutors have been using the law against workers who needed false documents to obtain employment.
The identity theft law, with its calls for a mandatory prison term, has been used to persuade people to plead guilty to lesser immigration charges and accept prompt deportation.
There was no evidence that Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa, an undocumented worker from Mexico who filed the review petition with the court in July 2008, knew he was using Social Security and alien registration numbers that belonged to others when he was arrested in 2006.
Flores-Figueroa, while acknowledging he used false documents, appealed his conviction on the identity theft charge. The case was first filed in the U.S Southern District of Iowa.
Stephanie Rose, the Assistant US Attorney who will soon be nominated, it seems, to replace Matt Dummermuth, worked very hard to do everything possible to make sure the illegal immigrants arrested at Agriprocessors received fair treatment. (Defense attorneys representing the workers have publicly lauded her for her efforts.)
Her nomination and confirmation will bring much needed fresh air to the office. And that is something all of us should hope for.