Flores-Figueroa v. US

Flores-Figueroa v. US - (Slip Opinion OCTOBER TERM 2008...

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1 (Slip Opinion) OCTOBER TERM, 2008 Syllabus NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. 200 U. S. 321, 337. SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES Syllabus FLORES-FIGUEROA v . UNITED STATES CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT No. 08–108. Argued February 25, 2009—Decided May 4, 2009 A federal statute forbidding “[a]ggravated identity theft” imposes a mandatory consecutive 2-year prison term on an individual convicted of certain predicate crimes if, during (or in relation to) the commis- sion of those other crimes, the offender “ knowingly . . . uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person .” 18 U. S. C. §1028A(a)(1) (emphasis added). After petitioner Flores- Figueroa, a Mexican citizen, gave his employer counterfeit Social Se- curity and alien registration cards containing his name but other people’s identification numbers, he was arrested and charged with two immigration offenses and aggravated identity theft. Flores moved for acquittal on the latter charge, claiming that the Govern- ment could not prove that he knew that the documents’ numbers were assigned to other people. The District Court agreed with the Government that the word “knowingly” in §1028A(a)(1) does not mod- ify the statute’s last three words, “of another person,” and, after trial, found Flores guilty on all counts. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Held: Section §1028(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, “know- ingly” is naturally read as applying to all the subsequently listed elements of the crime. Where a transitive verb has an object, listen- ers 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 or- dinary English usage. See, e.g. , Liparota v. United States , 471 U. S.
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2 FLORES-FIGUEROA v. UNITED STATES Syllabus 419. The Government argues that this position is incorrect because it would either require the same language to be interpreted differently in a neighboring provision or would render the language in that pro- vision superfluous. This argument fails for two reasons. Finally, the Government’s arguments based on the statute’s purpose and on the practical problems of enforcing it are not sufficient to overcome the
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Flores-Figueroa v. US - (Slip Opinion OCTOBER TERM 2008...

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