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11th Cir: Fraudulent Marriage Barred by Statute of Limitations

By Betty Wang, JD on June 28, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last week, the Eleventh Circuit ruled that a marriage fraud prosecution was actually barred by the 5-year statute of limitation, and reversed the district court’s judgment that it was not.

In 2009, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received an “Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status” and an “Application for Employment Authorization” from an Argentinian citizen, Marino, who had no legal status in the United States and had an expired nonimmigrant visa. She claimed, in the application, that she was married to a U.S. citizen, Rojas, since 2007. A copy of the marriage license was submitted, as well.

In its investigation, and because of several inconsistencies in the allegedly married couple's documents and in their responses given during a joint interview, ICE investigators decided to conduct separate interviews. Even more suspicion was raised regarding the status of their marriage. Finally, both Rojas and Marino separately owned up, admitting that their marriage was indeed fraudulent.

Statutes of limitations normally begin to run upon the completion of the crime. The government and defendants both conceded to this. However, where they differed was when the clock on that time actually started.

The district court agreed, then, with the plaintiffs, the goverment, who claimed that the statute of limitations had not yet run out. They saw that the crime was not complete until the investigators discovered the fraudulent marriage. This was when the couple was interviewed separately and ICE had confirmed that the defendants purpose in getting marriage was to file for immigration benefits.

The Eleventh Circuit saw differently, and held that a fraudulent marriage was not a continuing offense, but rather was completed upon the marriage, or, "marriage." Because a specific statute of limitations had not been referenced, the default would be 5 years, which had already passed by that time.

The case was remanded back to the district court.

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