Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Court Upholds Man’s Conviction for Claiming to Be Federal Agent
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The government does not need to prove that the documents presented by a defendant falsely identifying him as an “agent” of a fictitious federal agency appeared to be issued by a real United States agency to convict him for a violation of 18 U.S.C. §1028(a)(6), the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday.
A three-judge panel upheld Leonard Fuller’s conviction for the unlawful possession of an identification document that appeared to have been made by or under authority of the United States government based on his production of false law enforcement credentials at the Canadian border.
Because Canada forbids weapons from entering the country, Fuller asked customs agents at the Eastport, Idaho Port of Entry to store his gun until he returned to the United States.
Fuller claimed he was an off-duty law enforcement officer and produced a leather wallet to which was affixed a metal badge in the shape of a star embossed with the words “Special Response Agent,” and an identification card with the headline, “United States Special Response Department Anti-Terrorism Unit.”
State Department Contacted
After accepting Fuller’s weapon and permitting him to enter Canada, the agents contacted the State Department and learned that Fuller was not a federal employee, and that no “Special Response Department” existed.
When Fuller returned to retrieve his firearm, he was arrested for possessing a false identification document in violation of Sec. 1028(a)(6).
At trial, and on appeal following his conviction, Fuller argued that the documents he had possessed did not appear to be “made or issued under the authority of the United States” as required by the statute because they purported to be issued by an agency he had “made up.”
Writing for the appellate court, Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima noted that “[a]ll sorts of documents can appear to be made by or under the authority of the United States even though they purport to be documents produced by an agency that turns out to be nonexistent.”
For example, Tashima suggested, an identification card stating that the holder is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Twelfth Circuit could appear to be “made by or issued under the authority of the United States” even though the Twelfth Circuit does not exist.
Although the phrasing of Sec. 1028(a)(6) is “‘somewhat awkward,’” he reasoned, the purpose of the statute was to proscribe the knowing possession of documents commonly accepted for identification purposes that appear to have been made by or under the authority of the United States.
Thus, he concluded, Sec. 1028(a)(6) only requires that a defendant knowingly possessed a document of a type intended or commonly accepted for the purposes of identification which appears to be made by or under the authority of the United States, and that the defendant had knowledge that the document was stolen or produced without the authority of the United States.
Judges Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Richard C. Tallman joined Tashima in his opinion.
The case is United States v. Fuller, 07-30114.
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