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What Are the Federal Misuse of a Passport Laws?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Feb 04, 2022

Review of Misuse of a Passport Laws Defined Under 18 U.S.C. § 1544

Under Title 18, U.S.C, Section 1544, it's a federal crime for anyone to knowingly use another person's passport. Further, this statute also prohibits anyone to use a passport in a manner that violates the restrictions that govern its usage.

In addition, it's illegal for anyone to give someone a passport for use when they know they are not the passport's rightful owner. This law is often used by prosecutors when a person uses a passport issued to someone else or uses a passport that violates the restrictions.

Misuse of a Passport Laws - 18 U.S.C. § 1544
There are many ways to commit a misuse of a passport crime, such as using someone's passport.

In the eyes of the United States government, a passport is more than just a form of identification. With a passport, you can prove your citizenship or identification. It is an essential travel document by which the government essentially vouches for your identity as a U.S. citizen.

For this reason, any form of passport fraud, including misuse of a passport defined under 18 U.S.C. 1544, is a federal crime carrying potentially serious consequences.

However, passport crimes occur in many forms, ranging from issuing or verifying a passport without authorization to using someone's passport to violate the law.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the misuse of the passport, if you're convicted of this crime, you could be facing significant fines and up to 25 years in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review federal passport and visa fraud offenses listed under 18 U.C. Code Chapter 75 below.

What Is Misuse of a Passport?

Misuse of a passport is a specific type of passport fraud in which a legitimate passport is used for unlawful purposes. According to 18 U.S.C. 1544, misuse of passport falls into one of three categories:

  • Willfully and knowingly using (or trying to use) a passport belonging to someone else;
  • Willfully trying to use a passport in violation of any rules or restrictions associated with it; or
  • Willfully giving a passport for someone to use other than the person for whom the passport was created.

What Are Some Examples?

Example 1: Stealing someone's passport and giving it to someone who looks like the person for the purpose of traveling under their name or illegally entering the country. In this case, both the person who used the passport and the person who furnished it may be charged with misusing a passport.

Example 2: Using your twin brother's passport to travel on vacation because you don't have one of your own. Even if you had no other intent other than to travel, it's a crime to use someone else's passport as if it were your own. If your twin voluntarily gave you the passport, he could also be charged.

Example 3: Using a passport for official purposes in a personal way. If you were issued a diplomatic passport and used it to travel for pleasure or study—even if the passport is yours—this is an instance where you're violating the rules under which the passport was issued.

Charges and Indictments

Possible charges for passport or visa fraud offenses could include a conspiracy to commit these acts if two or more people agreed to commit the crime, which is defined under 18 U.S.C. § 371.

Further, it could be charged as a conspiracy to commit mail fraud or wire fraud defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1349.

Indictments that charge someone with criminal violations of the passport laws are obtained through a federal grand jury by the United States Attorney's Office or the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Anyone indicted will be subjected to arrest by the federal law enforcement agency who conducted the investigation or the United States Marshal's Service unless they have made a self-surrender arrangement through their defense lawyer.

Federal agents within the U.S. Department of State usually investigate allegations of passport or visa fraud, and they work closely with federal prosecutors for advice on filing formal criminal charges, which is known as an “indictment.”

In some small less-serious cases or a single violation, the United States Attorney's Office could refer the matter to a state prosecutor where the crime occurred.

What are Penalties for Misuse of Passport?

If convicted of misusing a passport, you will likely be subject to fines and prison time. The amount of prison time depends on the nature of the offense.

For lesser offenses such as using someone else's passport for personal use with no other criminal intent, you may receive up to 10 years in prison and 15 years if it is past your first or second offense.

If the misuse of the passport was for drug trafficking purposes, the penalty might be up to 20 years. To facilitate international terrorism, the penalty is up to 25 years.

The sentencing results from a point system listed under the United States Sentencing Guidelines provide a recommended punishment range.

What Are the Related Federal Offenses?

Misuse of a passport is just one of several types of passport fraud. In some instances, you may be charged with several other crimes related to passport fraud, including but not limited to the following listed below.

Visa Fraud - 18 U.S.C.  § 1546
Visa fraud defined under 18 U.S.C. § 1546 makes it a federal crime to create a counterfeit passport.

Issuance without Authority (18 U.S.C. 1541): Essentially, this crime deals with issuing unauthorized passports, such as a person posing as a government official issuing a passport or a legitimate official issuing one to a non-citizen.

False Statement in Application and Use of Passport (18 U.S.C. 1542). Lying on a passport application is a federal offense. So is giving someone a passport based on known false information.

Forgery or False Use of Passport (18 U.S.C. 1543). Examples include creating or distributing counterfeit passports or passports that are expired.

Fraud and Misuse of Visas, Permits, and Other Documents (18 U.S.C. 1546). Just as it is illegal to create counterfeit passports or falsify information to obtain them, is it illegal to create fake visas and other documents regarding admission to the U.S. or misrepresent information to get those documents.

Common Defenses to Misuse of Passport

The operative words in 18 U.S.C. 1544 are "willfully" and "knowingly." To procure a conviction, federal prosecutors must do more than demonstrate that you used someone else's passport or broke the rules with your passport; they must prove that you willfully and knowingly did so.

Thus, a federal defense attorney may argue that you had no willful intent to break the law. For example:

  • You didn't know it was someone else's passport; or
  • You weren't aware of the restrictions on the passport; or
  • There was a mistake in creating the passport, and you didn't realize someone else's name was on it; or
  • You inadvertently delivered the wrong passport to the wrong person.

Further, in cases where guilt is not in doubt, through negotiation with the federal prosecutor, we may be able to arrange a favorable plea bargain.

Otherwise, we are prepared to challenge the crucial elements of the crime that must be proven beyond any reasonable doubt.

Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm located in Los Angeles County, and we serve people charged with a federal offense across the United States.

You can reach our law firm for an initial consultation by calling (310) 328-3776 or filling out our contact form.

About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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