Appeals court reverses forgery conviction

Published 9:40 am Thursday, December 15, 2011

AUSTIN — The reversal of an Austin woman’s aggravated forgery conviction will only affect forgery cases involving fraudulent use of a Minnesota identification card, according to a Mower County prosecutor.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed 31-year-old Martha Isela Reynua’s aggravated forgery and perjury convictions Dec. 5. The court upheld Reynua’s convictions of simple forgery and two counts of presenting falsified information in a motor vehicle title application.

Reynua was convicted in 2010 after she used someone else’s Social Security card to acquire a Minnesota identification card and subsequent work documents, according to court records.

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Assistant Mower County Attorney Jeremy Clinefelter, who prosecuted Reynua’s case in district court, said the appeals court ruling applies to Mower County because it clarifies the law regarding aggravated forgery.

“It’s an interpretation of what constitutes an aggravated forgery offense,” Clinefelter said. “In this case, the court said a Minnesota identification card cannot qualify as an aggravated forgery offense because it doesn’t evidence a legal right and privilege in and of myself.”

According to Clinefelter’s interpretation of the ruling, fraudulently using a document that creates, terminates or transfers a legal right or privilege — such as a driver’s license — could constitute aggravated forgery. Since a Minnesota identification card is only used to identify oneself, fraudulent use of one constitutes simple forgery, which is also a felony but carries a shorter sentence than the aggravated offense.

“Going forward, we won’t use aggravated forgery charges against individuals in this situation,” Clinefelter said.

Along with the aggravated forgery reversal, the appeals court reversed Reynua’s perjury conviction. The conviction stemmed from Reynua claiming to be a U.S. citizen on her I-9 employment-eligibility verification form. The court ruled 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.

Clinefelter said I-9 forms are rarely used as evidence, making the ruling insignificant for Mower County. Clinefelter conceded during the appeals court process to the improper use of the I-9.

Clinefelter said it’s important to remember that someone residing in the U.S. illegally and using fraudulent identification will likely be charged with aggravated forgery and simple forgery, as well as potential other charges depending on the case. The reversal of Reynua’s conviction clarified the law, but Reynua still faces sentencing for the simple forgery conviction.

“At the end of the day, it’s still a case where Ms. Reynua committed various state offenses,” Clinefelter said. “She was living a fictitious existence with these documents …. That creates numerous violations of state and federal law in the process of doing that.”