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United States v. Mohammed Jabateh (3rd Cir. September 2020)

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Immigration Fraud – A violation under 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a) requires a defendant to knowingly make a false statement under oath on an official immigration document but does not apply to oral statements.

Immigration Perjury – A violation under 18 U.S.C. § 1621 requires a defendant to willfully make a false statement under oath before a tribunal or officer about any material matter.

Mohammed Jabateh was a Liberian immigrant convicted and sentenced to 360 months for immigration fraud and perjury under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1546(a) and 1621 for making false statements during his interview with a USCIS officer while applying for a Green Card.  Jabateh was granted asylum in 1999, applied for permanent residency in 2001, and was interviewed about his application under oath in 2011.  The statute of limitations for the false statements made on his written application had expired after 5 years, so the government brought fraud and perjury charges based on the oral responses from his 2011 interview.  An immigration agent familiar with the Liberian civil war asked Jabateh questions verbatim from his application regarding Jabateh’s involvement with organizations in his home country or participating in genocide, to which Jabateh responded he had not.

The Court reviewed Jabateh’s conviction and sentence under plain error and engaged in an exercise of statutory interpretation regarding 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a) to determine if it applied only to written documents or to oral statements as well.  Using text, context, and history of the Immigration Acts of 1924, 1952 and 1976 amendment, the Court held the statute’s reference to “application, affidavit, or other document required by the immigration laws or regulations” referred only to written materials.  However, the Court held that this statutory interpretation was not clear and presented a novel question, so the district court did not commit plain error in applying the statute to Jabateh’s false oral statement.  The Court also rejected Jabateh’s claim to merge the perjury and fraud offenses as the same offense, holding the statutes clearly contained elements unique to each since fraud required a knowing state of mind and written documents, while perjury required proof the defendant acted willfully.  The Court affirmed the district court’s conviction and sentence.

The Court also considered questions about sufficient evidence to convict and consecutive sentencing.  See full opinion for more details.

Appeal from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Opinion by Matey, joined by Ambro and Fuentes.

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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