18 U.S. Code § 911 - False Claim of United States Citizenship
United States citizenship is a status that comes with inherent privileges and rights—and therefore, the claim to citizenship is strongly protected by U.S. law.
Title 18 U.S. Code 911 is a federal law that criminalizes the act of falsely claiming to be a United States citizen. This statute aims to protect the integrity of American citizenship and deter individuals from attempting to deceive authorities or obtain benefits reserved for citizens.
In other words, if you falsely represent yourself, you can be charged with a crime. Sometimes, false personification can result in federal criminal charges. But first, you need to understand whether the federal government is charging you and what factors must be proven.
The federal laws regarding falsely impersonating others are listed within 18 U.S. Code Chapter 43, discussed below. These statutes define situations where certain people or groups of individuals are falsely impersonated.
18 U.S.C. 911 says, “Whoever falsely and willfully represents himself to be a citizen of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.”
Let's take a closer look at this federal law below.
Legal Framework of Title 18 U.S. Code 911
By law, A U.S. citizen is an individual who meets one or more of the following criteria:
- Born in the United States or its territories;
- Born abroad to U.S. citizen parents;
- Naturalized as a U.S. citizen through a legal process;
Title 18 U.S. Code 911 states that anyone who falsely represents themselves as a United States citizen is guilty of a crime. This can include oral and written statements and fraudulent documents to support the false claim.
To procure a conviction under this law, federal prosecutors must establish the following beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant knowingly made a false claim of U.S. citizenship;
- The false claim was made with the intent to deceive; and
- The claim was made to someone with a legitimate reason to inquire into the defendant's immigration or citizenship status, such as a federal, state, or local government official or agency.
The third provision does not appear in the text of 18 U.S.C. 911 but was added to the case law in a ruling by the Ninth Circuit in U.S.A. v. Romero Avila, 2000.
Other things to know by the text of the law and subsequent case law:
- The law does not require the false claim to have been successful to be considered a violation. The mere attempt to deceive is sufficient for prosecution.
- Saying you are a "citizen" is insufficient to warrant a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 911. Instead, the law indicates you must specifically have said you were a United States citizen with the intent to deceive.
- Falsely claiming to have been born in the U.S. does not necessarily violate 18 U.S.C. 911. You must specifically claim falsely that you are a citizen.
What Are the Exceptions?
There are currently two situations that may exempt someone from prosecution under 18 U.S.C. 911:
- Young resident with one citizen parent. You may be exempted from federal charges if you reside in the U.S. before age 16, have one U.S. citizen parent, and misrepresent your citizenship in good faith. However, your immigration status may still be questioned.
- False claim made before Sept. 30, 1996. If you falsely claimed U.S. citizenship before this date, you may be able to obtain a waiver that exempts you from prosecution.
What Are the Related Offenses?
There are several federal statutes criminalizing impersonation. Sometimes, you might face charges for violating more than one of these laws. These related offenses for 18 U.S.C. 911 falsely impersonating a citizen of the United States are listed under 18 U.S. Code Chapter 43 as follows:
- Falsely impersonating an officer or employee of the United States defined under 18 U.S.C. 912. This crime involves pretending to be a federal agent or employee demanding money, documents, or property of any value while posing. A conviction includes a fine and three years in prison;
- Impersonators making an arrest or search defined under 18 U.S.C. 913. This crime involves falsely representing yourself be a government agent, officer, or employee of the U.S. who searches someone or a building or arrests or detains another person;
- Falsely impersonating a creditor of the United States defined under 18 U.S.C. 914. This crime involves impersonating a lawful holder of U.S. debt, such as public stocks, dividends, pensions, and annuities, and attempting to collect money from the U.S. on those pretenses. A conviction carries up to five years of imprisonment;
- Foreign diplomats, consuls, or officers defined under 18 U.S.C. 915. You can be convicted of violating this federal statute by pretending to be a diplomat, consul, or another foreign government official who demands or tries to obtain money, papers, documents, or anything of value. A conviction can result in a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison;
- 4–H Club members or agents defined under (18 U.S.C. 916. A conviction for violating this federal law carries six months in prison;
- Red Cross members or agents defined under 18 U.S.C. 917. A conviction for violations of this federal statute carries up to five years in prison.
What Are the Penalties for 18 U.S.C. 911?
Individuals found guilty of violating Title 18 U.S. Code 911 can face significant penalties, including:
- Imprisonment: A conviction under this statute may result in imprisonment for up to three years.
- Fines: In addition to imprisonment, a defendant may be required to pay a fine of up to $250,000.
- Immigration Consequences: Non-citizens convicted of falsely claiming U.S. citizenship may face significant immigration consequences, including deportation or being barred from re-entry into the United States.
It should also be noted that even if you are not convicted of a crime under U.S.C. 911, you could still face deportation and ineligibility for re-entry if you are in the country illegally.
What Are the Defenses for 18 U.S.C. 911?
A good federal criminal defense attorney can implement several possible defenses for individuals facing charges under Title 18 U.S. Code 911. Some of the most common strategies are discussed below.
Perhaps we can argue there was a lack of intent. A critical crime element is the defendant's intent to deceive. If the defendant can demonstrate that they did not knowingly make a false claim of U.S. citizenship, they may be able to avoid conviction.
Perhaps we can argue there was a mistake of fact. In some cases, a defendant may have genuinely believed they were a U.S. citizen due to a misunderstanding of the law or their immigration status. In such instances, the defendant may argue they did not intentionally deceive the authorities.
Perhaps we can argue there was duress or coercion. If a defendant can prove that they were under duress or coerced into making a false claim of U.S. citizenship, they may be able to defend against the charges successfully.
Perhaps we can argue there is insufficient evidence. To secure a conviction under Title 18 U.S. Code 911, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense can cast doubt on the prosecution's evidence, they may be able to avoid a conviction.
If you face federal criminal charges, contact us to review the case details via phone or the contact form. We provide legal representation on federal criminal matters throughout the United States. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, CA.