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Posted on: November 23, 2016

U.S. District Court Rules in Favor of MCAO in Prosecutions Involving Identity Theft Laws

PHOENIX— On Tuesday, November 22, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell granted summary judgment on behalf of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County, and the State of Arizona. The suit was brought approximately two years ago by the ACLU, Puente Arizona, and individuals that included two unauthorized aliens who had been convicted of identity theft felonies in Arizona for using false names to obtain employment.

“At the heart of this very complex litigation was the simple argument that it is our responsibility to protect Maricopa County residents from identity theft, pursue justice on their behalf, and hold offenders accountable. This decision confirms our arguments that MCAO is serving victims of identity theft through the full and fair enforcement of our laws and rejected the divisive and irresponsible arguments brought by Puente and the ACLU,” said Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “I am proud of our team’s work to adeptly defend the basic notions of protecting victims of criminal conduct, the role of our office in carrying out our constitutional duties, and my role as the elected chief prosecutor. Our partnership with Attorney General Brnovich’s Office on behalf of the people of Arizona served the entire state well,” Montgomery added.

“Identity theft costs Arizonans millions of dollars a year,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich. “Arizona can now move forward with prosecuting job-related identity theft crimes to protect Arizonans. The constitution does not protect someone from stealing another person’s identity. Defending this lawsuit has always been about defending the rule of law,” added Brnovich.

The lawsuit alleged that federal regulation of immigration prevents state regulation of identity theft. However, in July of 2016, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office filed a motion for summary judgment in the case claiming those behind the lawsuit had not shown that Arizona’s exercise of its historic police powers to protect its citizens from identity theft had damaged federal interests, adding that Arizona had the highest per-capita complaints of identity theft in the nation at the time, with employment-related identity theft comprising approximately one-third of those complaints. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office joined in those arguments underscoring the impact to hundreds of identity theft victims that impacted everything from tax returns to means tested benefits.

The court found no basis on which to conclude that Congress intended to preclude states from prosecuting the use of false identities outside the I-9 process. MCAO under Montgomery revised policies pertaining to prosecution of identity theft or forgery cases to prohibit reliance on an I-9 Form as evidence for charging or trial purposes. The impact to cases charged and prosecuted by MCAO will be minimal since 90% of cases brought did not utilize information from federal forms in the first place.

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