United States v. Isabel Yero Grimon (11th Cir. May 2019)

The Federal Docket

August 27, 2019

Identity Fraud/Interstate Commerce Element – The Court retains subject matter jurisdiction to enter a guilty plea for a defendant even if the accompanying factual proffer states that a basis for how the Government would be able to prove the defendant’s conduct affected interstate commerce.

Isabel Grimon was convicted for possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices under 18 U.S.C. § 1029 and aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C. § 1028A based on her possession of several credit cards and credit card account numbers issued to other people. The indictment alleged that Grimon’s possession of the unauthorized access devices “affected interstate and foreign commerce.”

Grimon pleaded guilty and executed a factual proffer in connection with her plea agreement. The proffer stated that the Government would have been able to prove Grimon’s conduct affected interstate commerce but did not elaborate how. During the change of plea hearing, the Government stated that Grimon’s conduct “in some way affected commerce between on state and other states.”

On appeal, Grimon argued that the factual proffer “merely stipulated” to the interstate commerce element and did not establish underlying facts showing her conduct affected interstate commerce. Grimon also stressed that the credit cards were never used. The Government responded that the indictment sufficiently invoked the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction by alleging Grimon’s conduct affected interstate commerce and that, even if Grimon’s stipulation was an insufficient factual basis for the interstate element of her offense, the district court still retained subject matter jurisdiction to accept the plea.

On appeal, the Court held that the district court retained subject matter jurisdiction to entertain the plea, distinguishing between subject matter jurisdiction and “jurisdictional elements.” The former is invoked when an indictment sufficiently alleges a federal offense—the latter merely reflects Congress’s authority to prohibit or regulate the alleged conduct under the Commerce Clause.

The Court echoed its prior holdings that “the government’s failure to sufficiently allege or prove the interstate commerce element does not deprive the district court of its subject matter over the criminal case.” For example, the district court retains power to dismiss an indictment if it fails to allege sufficient facts that the defendant committed a crime, such as the fact that a defendant’s criminal conduct affected interstate commerce.

All that is required for the district court to maintain jurisdiction over a case is whether the indictment charged an offense under valid federal law, and a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence regarding a particular element is a “non-jurisdictional challenge” that has no bearing on the court’s jurisdiction.

The Court distinguished Grimon’s case from United States v. Iguaran, 821 F.3d 1335 (11th Cir. 2016), where the statute in question, dealing with vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, specifically required a preliminary determination by the district court that it had subject matter jurisdiction. Notably, and unlike the effect on interstate commerce here, U.S. jurisdiction was not an element of the offense in Iguaran.

Appeal from the Southern District of Florida

Opinion by Hull, joined by Marcus and Grant

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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