by Tim Rasmussen, Stevens Country Prosecutor
Some time ago, a young man pleaded guilty in a Superior Court in on a charge of Identity Theft. He had used a credit card that had been stolen from his Grandmother.
The crime was Identity Theft; accomplished by using someone else’s credit card to buy things. It seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? A person uses something he knows isn’t his and gets a benefit from it. That is stealing; some kind of theft. You would think that there was no issue with that.
But no, the US Supreme Court vacated the conviction because the government did not prove the he “knowingly” used information that belonged to another person, as required by the statute. The justices reasoned that under the statute, the government needed to prove that the defendant knew that the SSN belonged to another person. Since the government had not proved this, the conviction was overturned.
What this means is that, in order to get a conviction, the government has to prove what the defendant knew about the SSN, not simply prove that he had used the number that was not his. The court did not focus on what he had done; they just found a way to vacate the conviction.
In a Colorado case, with a similar set of facts and the same result, a dissenting judge wrote, “I not only believe the majority misconstrues the statute,… but, by slicing , dicing, parsing, distinguishing, and generally over-analyzing one short and relatively self-explanatory phrase, the majority manages to exclude from the statutory proscription conduct lying at its very heart.” In other words, by twisting the words of the law far enough, this Judge believed that the Court had managed to undo the very purpose of the law the people had enacted.
If you slice and dice something long enough, you can make anything of it. Torture and twist words long enough and you can make them say anything you want. In court decisions, the appellate courts can get to any result they want to, by twisting words and meanings until the law no longer serves the purpose it was designed to serve. It is sophistry at work.
Many of our Appellate justices seem to have forgotten an important basic principle. The laws are written by the people and are there to serve the people. To help all of us live together. The people do not serve the law.