Criminal Defenses for Identity Theft Charges
You may find yourself charged with the crime of identity theft, or the use of somebody else’s personal identifying information – such as date of birth, physical address, Social Security number, etc. – without that person’s consent, for any unlawful or fraudulent purpose. Identity theft does not have to be committed with the goal of stealing something, as a person may commit identity theft to give a false name to police to avoid arrest and prosecution, for example.
When facing the full weight of the New Jersey criminal justice system, you can begin to feel like you have no hope of beating identity theft charges or securing a more favorable outcome than a significant sentence following a conviction. However, a defendant charged with identity theft in New Jersey may have legal defenses, depending on the circumstances of the case.
These defenses may include, among others:
- Mistaken identity
- Permission to use personally identifying information
- Lack of intent to use personal identifying information or to use such information for unlawful or fraudulent purposes
- Issues with the legality of police searches and seizures
- Insufficient evidence to prove each element of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt
Asserting a legal defense in an identity theft case will often prove legally and factually complex. To ensure that you have the best defense possible, you need a knowledgeable, skilled criminal defense attorney in your corner.
When you need a criminal defense lawyer you can count on in New Jersey, contact the law firm of Clark, Clark & Noonan, LLC. Our legal team consists entirely of former criminal prosecutors who now use their experience and knowledge of how identity theft cases are prosecuted to help our clients defend their legal rights and their freedom.
We make ourselves available to our clients 24/7 to address their questions and concerns whenever they arise. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss how our firm can help you with your New Jersey criminal identity theft case.
Falsely Accused of Identity Theft
This defense effectively argues, “You got the wrong guy.” With the increasing use of electronic means to commit identity theft, it creates the potential that law enforcement identifies the wrong person as perpetrating an identity theft crime.
For example, the actual perpetrator may use means to make it seem as though identity theft is occurring from your computer or IP address. Others may have used your computer or system to perpetrate an identity theft crime without your knowledge. If the alleged offense took place in a physical location, you might have an alibi that demonstrates you were somewhere else when the alleged offense occurred.
Successfully raising a defense of mistaken identity requires considerable evidence. When the alleged identity theft offense took place over the internet or by using electronic means, your criminal defense attorney will likely need to work with computer experts to explain how the evidence shows that you were not the individual who committed the alleged offense.
Permission to Use Information
An identity theft crime requires that an offender use the victim’s personal identifying information without the victim’s consent. As a result, a possible defense to an identity theft charge would include proving that you had the alleged victim’s consent or permission to use their personal identifying information.
For example, the presumed victim may have given you their credit card or ATM card with permission to use the card to make a purchase or withdraw funds. In some cases, the individual who initially granted you permission may later have second thoughts about giving you permission to use their information and may report you for identity theft, or may contact authorities before you have a chance to use their information, instead of first contacting you to withdraw their consent.
If you can prove that you had permission to collect and use a person’s identifying information, you cannot be convicted of identity theft.
Lack of Intent
The charge of identity theft requires the prosecution to prove that you had the intent to use another person’s personal identifying information for a fraudulent or unlawful purpose. You might be able to defend against an identity theft charge by arguing that you did not have the intent to collect someone’s personal identifying information or to use another person’s personal identifying information in your possession, or that you did not intend to use another’s personal identifying information for an unlawful or fraudulent purpose.
Arguing that you lacked the requisite criminal intent for an identity theft charge can often prove difficult, especially if you were found in possession of another person’s identifying information, and you cannot prove that you had permission to be in possession of or to use that information. However, under certain circumstances, you might be able to credibly argue that you were simply involved in a mix-up and did not intend to take or use someone else’s personal identifying information, or that you intended to use the information for a legitimate and lawful purpose.
Law enforcement’s investigation of many identity theft crimes requires the police to conduct searches and seizures of evidence from the suspected offender. Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, police generally must obtain a warrant before searching an individual’s home, vehicle, place of work, or person, and before seizing any evidence found during the search.
Despite this requirements, courts have developed numerous exceptions for incidents in which police do not need to obtain a warrant to conduct a search or seizure – usually due to concerns that evidence could be lost, tampered with, or destroyed while waiting to obtain a search warrant or where the discovery of the evidence is considered an inevitability.
If the police obtained evidence against you in a search and seizure that violates your civil rights, you may be entitled to challenge the admissibility of that evidence in your trial. Evidence that is seized in an unlawful search by law enforcement may be precluded from evidence under the exclusionary rule. Without evidence that establishes one or more elements of the criminal charge, the prosecution may be forced to charge you with a lesser offense or to dismiss your case altogether.
You can challenge the legality or constitutionality of a warrantless law enforcement search by arguing that the police failed to satisfy any of the exceptions that permit a warrantless search and thus were required to obtain a warrant to conduct a search. Or if the police conducted a search pursuant to a warrant, you can choose to challenge the validity of the warrant itself, typically by arguing that law enforcement and the judge who issued the search warrant lacked a reasonable basis to find probable cause for the warrant.
Challenging the legality or constitutionality of a search requires a complex legal argument, as issues with a law enforcement search will not necessarily require the exclusion of evidence seized in that search.
You may defend against a charge of identity theft by arguing that the prosecution lacks sufficient evidence to either establish probable cause for each element of your charge or to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a factfinder that you committed each element of the identity theft charge.
If the prosecution does not have sufficient evidence to establish probable cause for one or more elements of the charge, the court will be forced to dismiss that charge as you cannot be prosecuted for an offense without probable cause.
Alternatively, you may choose to contest the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence at trial, where the prosecution has a much higher burden to prove each element of your charge beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury or a judge sitting as the factfinder has any reasonable doubt as to your guilt due to the sufficiency of the evidence, the jury or judge is obligated to render a “not guilty” verdict.
Charged with Identity Theft? Call Clark, Clark, & Noonan, LLC Today
If you or a loved one have been charged with identity theft or related offenses in New Jersey, you need aggressive, experienced legal representation to help protect your rights, freedom, and future. Don’t leave the outcome of your criminal prosecution and your future up to chance. You may have legal defenses available to you that may allow you to reduce the severity of your charges and any potential sentences, or even to have your charges dismissed altogether.
Contact the New Jersey criminal defense attorneys at Clark, Clark & Noonan, LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation case review to learn more about your legal rights and what to expect in the criminal justice process.