By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER
HONOLULU (AP)—A federal appeals court overturned a Chinese national’s conviction that he committed immigration document fraud by possessing driver’s licenses he illegally obtained in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
A driver’s license isn’t considered one of the documents authorizing entry into the United States, as outlined by the law that Wei Lin was convicted of violating, according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling issued Tuesday.
Prosecutors argued that a license is included as an "other" document in the law involving "fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents."
The court’s opinion states that no federal statute or regulation designates a driver’s license as documents authorizing entry, employment, or residence in the United States. "The government merely notes that a driver’s license is one of the documents employers may use to help verify the employment authorization status of prospective employees, as mandated by the Immigration Reform and Control Act," the opinion states.
In reversing the conviction, the 9th Circuit sent the case back to district court.
Lin acknowledged paying a bribe to obtain an authentic license on Saipan. After it was seized during a traffic stop, he lied that he lost it at the beach and received a new one, according to the ruling.
A U.S. District Court judge for the Northern Mariana Islands in 2011 sentenced Lin to six months imprisonment, to run concurrently with credit for time served.
According to a 2011 affidavit by a Homeland Security special agent, Lin told authorities he paid a Bangladesh national $350 for the first license and agreed to cooperate with an investigation into fraudulent licenses. But when investigators refused to return his license, he decided not to cooperate.
The ruling upholds Lin’s conviction that he lied to a federal agent. According to the ruling, the agent asked him through a translator whether he had any "identification documents" and he said he did not, even though the duplicate license was in his wallet.
Prosecutors couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Saipan, where it was already the Christmas holiday. Lin’s attorney also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.