Court of Appeals reverses local forgery ruling; case could affect future prosecutions
Published 10:28 am Friday, December 9, 2011
A Minnesota Court of Appeals judge has reversed an Austin woman’s aggravated forgery conviction — a decision that could affect future forgery cases.
Martha Isela Reynua, 31, was convicted in 2010 of five felonies — aggravated forgery, perjury, simple forgery and two counts of presenting falsified information in a motor vehicle title application. The aggravated forgery and perjury convictions were reversed in a Court of Appeals decision issued Dec. 5, and Reynua faces sentencing on the conviction of simple forgery.
Reynua still potentially faces deportation for the forgery charge, but her attorney, Bruce Nestor, declined to comment on the subject.
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Nestor said the appeal came about because Reynua did not commit aggravated forgery, even though she used someone else’s Social Security card to acquire a state ID and subsequent work documents. Because she did not “falsely make or alter” an identification card — a necessary element of aggravated forgery cases — Reynua could only be convicted of the simple forgery charge, Nestor said.
“Traditionally, what would happen in Mower County is they would charge people with aggravated forgery and plea bargain it down to (simple) forgery,” Nestor said. “At least what this decision says is that the initial charging decision, with respect to identification cards, was improper.”
The reversal of the felony perjury conviction stems from Reynua claiming to be a U.S. citizen on her I-9 employment-eligibility verification form. Nestor argued that since the I-9 form is a federal document, federal law preempts state prosecution for conduct involving the form, making the form unusable for purposes other than those specifically listed in terms of enforcing federal laws.
“There are not that many counties that investigate and prosecute violations with the I-9 form like they do in Mower County,” Nestor said. “The policies that led to prosecuting based on I-9 forms really are intruding into federal immigration law and not addressing traditional enforcement priorities.
“What the Court of Appeals ruling said is … local law enforcement should focus on enforcing traditional areas of state law rather than getting involved in federal immigration.”
Nestor said both conviction reversals could impact the way county attorneys charge alleged illegal immigrants. Charges based on I-9 forms will be limited, Nestor said, and a clearer line will be drawn between aggravated and simple forgery. Aggravated forgery requires a person to “falsely make or alter” a document for the purpose of identification, but simple forgery only requires a person to use a false document for identification.
“Working without papers isn’t a crime; it’s a violation of civil law,” Nestor said. “Although it might be appropriate to charge people for using a forged document, I would encourage the focus to be on people who are using forged documents to commit crimes, not people using forged documents to work, survive and get by.”
Austin Police Capt. Dave McKichan said the department has been watching the case’s progress and does its best to handle each case with respect.
“We strive to do anything possible to treat anyone we deal with, with respect,” McKichan said. “Some of these things are not necessarily clearly defined to us and how they apply to us. We evolve based on some of that (judicial) feedback.”
Reynua is scheduled to appear in Mower County District Court to be sentenced on the simple forgery conviction, which was upheld. However, Nestor said he might take the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court for reviewal of the Court of Appeals decision. As part of the initial appeal, Nestor argued that Reynua’s simple forgery conviction was tainted by the use of the I-9 form as evidence. Although the simple forgery conviction was upheld by the court, Nestor said that move is contradictory to the finding that the I-9 form should not have been used as evidence.
“Most likely we’d review the finding that the (simple) forgery conviction was proper,” Nestor said. “I believe that (upholding the conviction) is in contradiction to the broader opinion.”
The Mower County Attorney’s office was unavailable for comment.