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High Court Limits Scope of Identity Theft Law

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday against federal prosecutors' interpretation of when they can charge criminal defendants with identity theft alongside other crimes, Bloomberg reports. The case centered on David Dubin, who was charged with healthcare fraud for overbilling Medicaid for services his psychological examination company provided to a child at an emergency shelter in Texas. Because Dubin used the patient’s name in submitting the fraudulent bill, he was also convicted of aggravated identity theft, which added a mandatory two years onto his prison sentence. The court said a defendant “uses” another person’s means of identification “in relation to” a predicate offense when the use is at the crux of what makes the conduct criminal. The ruling overturned a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision for the government.

In her opinion for the court, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote that under the 5th Circuit's "sweeping reading" of the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, "as long as a billing or payment method employs another person’s name or other identifying information, that is enough. A lawyer who rounds up her hours from 2.9 to 3 and bills her client electronically has committed aggravated identity theft. The same is true of a waiter who serves flank steak but charges for filet mignon using an electronic payment method. The text and context of the statute do not support such a boundless interpretation." In his concurring opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, "Whoever among you is not an 'aggravated identity thief,' let him cast the first stone. The United States came to this Court with a view of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A(a)(1) that would affix that unfortunate label on almost every adult American. Every bill splitter who has overcharged a friend using a mobile-payment service like Venmo. Every contractor who has rounded up his billed time by even a few minutes. Every college hopeful who has overstated his involvement in the high school glee club. All of those individuals, the United States says, engage in conduct that can invite a mandatory 2-year stint in federal prison."


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