Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Seventh Circuit Finds Evidence Insufficient to Support Conviction for Conspiring to Harbor Aliens

It is not often that a conviction is reversed on appeal for insufficient evidence.  In evaluating sufficiency claims, a Court of Appeals looks at the evidence in the light most favorable to the government.  Before it will reverse, it must find that even if the jury believed all of the government’s witnesses, there still was not enough evidence to prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Seventh Circuit recently found the evidence to be insufficient in a case involving convictions for conspiring to shield unauthorized aliens from detection and encouraging them to reside in the United States.  (See 8 U.S.C. § 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii), (iv), and (v)(I)).  The government’s evidence was that the defendants offered people a legal way to own a car without having to give anyone a Social Security number.  That is possible in Indiana by first creating a limited liability company (LLC) in the person’s name and obtaining necessary tax identifications number from the IRS.  The car can then be purchased in the name of the LLC without anyone having to give a Social Security number.  While this perfectly legal procedure can make it easier for people in the United States illegally to own cars, it is also an attractive option for non-citizens who legally reside in the U.S., but are not permitted to work (and thus have no Social Security numbers), people who have Social Security numbers, but don’t like to reveal them, as well as for people who want to conduct a trade or business through an LLC.  The Court found that the defendants’ actions did not shield anyone from detection since the defendants reported their clients’ actual names and addresses to the government when they applied for tax ID numbers and registered their LLCs.  The Court also found that what the defendants did did not encourage people from other countries to reside illegally in the United States simply because it provided them with a way to own a car.  The Court noted that during oral argument the attorney for the government conceded that a grocer or doctor would not violate the statute by selling food or providing medical care to a person they knew to be in this country illegally.  The Court concluded that providing such people a legal way to own a car is also not a crime.  The Court remanded for entry of a judgment of acquittal on that count.  United States v. Borrero, 2014 WL 5841263 (7th Cir. Nov. 12, 2014).

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