Accused Identity Forger Was Prejudiced at Trial
(CN) - A man facing deportation should have been allowed to admit his delayed birth certificate into evidence, even though he may have obtained the document through fraud, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Joseph Anderson Evans Sr. had been barred from using the certificate when he was tried in Washington for being an alien in the United States after deportation. Evans also faced a separate trial on 42 counts of fraudulently obtaining supplemental Social Security benefits, unlawfully acquiring food stamps, making a false claim of citizenship, and making a false statement in an application for a passport.
Federal prosecutors said Evans had been born in Mexico as Roman Ceniceros-Mora, and has gone by several aliases, including Joseph Ann Shippentower and Jose Grajeda Vasquez.
In 2010, he obtained a delayed birth in Idaho by saying he had been born there on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, and that he had served in Vietnam with the U.S. Marine Corp., earning a Purple Heart.
It was the application for a U.S. passport that Evans submitted next that drew the suspicion of federal investigators.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent testified that fingerprint analysis, photographs, witness interviews and other materials helped him match Evans to an existing alien-registration file, or A-file, for Ceniceros-Mora who had previously been deported to Mexico.
A historian for the U.S. Marine Corps. also cast doubt on Evans' story by testifying that she could not verify his record of service. She testified that the documents Evans provided to substantiate his record looked "homemade," and that pictures of Evans in military uniform reflected neither the proper dress code nor the military rank Evans had claimed.
On the basis of this testimony, the trial judge refused to let jurors consider the delayed birth certificate as evidence of Evans' U.S. citizenship.
"While neither party questions the validity of the Idaho birth certificate on its face, the government has unequivocally shown that the Idaho birth certificate is substantively fraudulent and that it was obtained through fraud of the defendant," he said.
The judge further noted that the certificate would "only lead to undue delay and a possible miscarriage of justice."
A jury found Evans guilty on all charges in separate trials, but a divided three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit vacated the convictions Tuesday after finding that exclusion of the birth certificate constituted a violation of due process under Fifth Amendment.
"In reaching the conclusion that no reasonable person could find that Evans' birth certificate was substantively genuine, the District Court erroneously weighted the credibility of the government's witnesses against the credibility of the official state document," Judge Richard Paez wrote for the majority. "Indeed, it expressly found that 'all three of the governments witnesses were credible.' This was error."
By excluding the certificate, the trial judge "erroneously weighed the credibility of the government's witnesses against the credibility of the official state document," according to the ruling.
Ultimately, "the issue boils down to the credibility of the parties' conflicting evidence, which is a question for the jury to decide," Paez added.
Judge Ronald Gould said he would have affirmed because the trial court properly excluded the birth certificate under Federal Rule of Evidence 104(a).
"Even if rule 104(a) is limited to the 'preliminary requirements or conditions that must be proved before a particular rule of evidence may be applied,' that does not prevent the court from excluding illegitimate evidence when excluding such evidence is the very reason rules of evidence exist," Gould wrote. "I have no problem reaching the firm conclusion that illegitimate evidence may permissibly be held to be inadmissible due to its inaccurate nature. We should make that our precedential point, rather than the approach favored by the majority."
Gould said the trial court made the right decision in excluding the birth certificate because it was based on "extensive evidence that Evans was not a U.S. citizen and never served in the military, let alone in a war zone."
In a lengthy footnote, the judge noted testimony from the Marine Corp. historian who discredited Evans' claim that he had "retired" from the military.
"She said that Evans could not have served twelve years of active duty in Vietnam through 1975 because (1) 'Marine Corps participation drew down and ended as a large scale operation' in 1971 and (2) the '[t]ypical tour for a Vietnam Marine was 13 months,' so twelve years of service does not seem possible," Gould wrote. "Why should a judge require the jury to wade through all this?"