False Statements and Immigration Benefits: Part 3

by | Oct 1, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Interrogation, Monmouth County, Ocean County

The statute Congress passed, most naturally read, strips a person of citizenship not when she committed any illegal act during the naturalization process, but only when that act played some role in her naturalization. When the underlying illegality alleged in a §1425(a) prosecution is a false statement to government officials, a jury must decide whether the false statement so altered the naturalization process as to have influenced an award of citizenship.  Because the entire naturalization process is set up to provide little room for subjective preferences or personal whims, that inquiry is properly framed in objective terms: To decide whether a defendant acquired citizenship by means of a lie, a jury must evaluate how knowledge of the real facts would have affected a reasonable government official properly applying naturalization law.

It seems strange to leave this question of law to the jury as opposed to the judge. Generally, questions of fact are for the jury and questions of law are for the judge. It also seems to make more sense under the circumstances to have jurors answer the relevant questions on a verdict sheet. Then, the judge could apply the law to the facts that the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

If the facts the defendant misrepresented are themselves legally disqualifying for citizenship, the jury can make quick work of that inquiry. In such a case, the defendant’s lie must have played a role in her naturalization. But that is not the only time a jury can find that a defendant’s lies had the requisite bearing on a naturalization decision, because lies can also throw investigators off a trail leading to disqualifying facts.  When relying on such an investigation-based theory, the Government must make a two-part showing.  Initially, the Government must prove that the misrepresented fact was sufficiently relevant to a naturalization criterion that it would have prompted reasonable officials, “seeking only evidence concerning citizenship qualifications,” to undertake further investigation.  Kungys, 485 U. S., at 774, n. 9.