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Court of Criminal Appeals Reverses San Antonio Man’s Conviction for Tampering with Government Records

Details matter when it comes to white collar crimes. As with any criminal case, the burden is on the prosecution to prove the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means offering sufficient evidence to show the defendant committed each element of the specific offense charged.

Fake Social Security Card Actually Saved Defendant from Jail

For example, if the state charges you with “tampering with a governmental record,” the prosecution needs to show the jury the actual record in question. This might seem like common sense. But the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recently had to elaborate on this point.

social security fraud

The case before the Court, Alfaro-Jimenez v. State, involved a defendant who used a fake Social Security card to obtain work. This case actually began when a San Antonio police officer responded to a domestic disturbance: A woman said her former boyfriend (the defendant) had been making threats against her.

The defendant later approached the officer, apparently in an effort to “set the record straight.” The officer handcuffed the defendant and asked him for his name and identification. The handcuffed defendant told the officer to retrieve his wallet from his back pocket. The wallet contained a number of forms of identification, including what appeared to be a Social Security card.

The officer said he “immediately recognized that the social security card was fake.” The officer ran a check on the Social Security number, which matched a person who did not match the defendant’s ethnicity. The officer then placed the defendant under arrest for “tampering with a governmental record,” The defendant then admitted the card was fake and gave the officer his actual name. At trial, the defendant added, “A guy sold it to me so I could get a job.”

The jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. More precisely, he argued the prosecution “never proved that the fake social security card was a governmental record.” The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the defendant on this point and overturned his conviction.

The Court explained that the specific statute used in this case–Section 37.10 of the Texas Penal Code–does cover situations where someone prepares or uses a fake government record. The problem was that prosecutors expressly charged the defendant under two subsections of Section 37.10 that require proof the defendant used “a governmental record” for unlawful purposes. “In other words,” the Court said, “those subsections do not provide for a conviction by merely proving that the defendant intended for a fake document to be taken as a genuine governmental record.”

Since the prosecution never proved the defendant possessed and tampered with a real government record–everyone acknowledged the defendant’s purported Social Security card was a forgery–his conviction could not stand.

Speak with a Galveston or Houston White Collar Criminal Defense Attorney Today

When the state charges you with any crime, they must prove you actually committed the specific offense alleged in the indictment. A qualified Houston criminal defense attorney can help ensure that you are not convicted of an offense you did not actually commit. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you have been charged with fraud or any other type of white collar crime. Call (281) 280-0100 .