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Garcia v. United States

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

July 16, 2018

GREGORY GARCIA, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ORDER

          MAX O COGBURN JR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Petitioner's Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, (Doc. No. 1).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was indicted in the underlying criminal case for: Count (1), attempting to procure United States naturalization through false and misleading statements about his criminal history during the application process to become a United States citizen; and Count (2) procuring United States naturalization through false and misleading statements about his criminal history during the application process to become a United States citizen. (3:15-cr-40, Doc. No. 1).

         The evidence at trial showed the following:

Garcia immigrated to the United States in 1993 and became a lawful permanent resident. In early 2005, he filed an application to become a naturalized citizen. The naturalization process required Garcia to submit a standardized application form (“Form N-400”), appear in person for questioning, and pass tests designed to elicit his knowledge of U.S. history and government, as well as written and spoken English.
On May 31, 2006, Garcia appeared for an in-person meeting with USCIS Officer Jason Rucienski. During the meeting, Officer Rucienski tested Garcia on his civics and English knowledge, and reviewed Garcia's criminal history. Garcia passed the civics examination, but failed the language test. Officer Rucienski provided Garcia with an “interview results” form, explaining that Garcia had failed the language test and would have a second chance to take it. He also informed Garcia that he needed to bring a certified record concerning an incident in his criminal history to the next meeting.
On August 23, 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Garcia on charges related to a conspiracy involving credit-card and identity fraud. Authorities arrested Garcia on September 15, 2006, and he made his initial appearance in federal court that day. He later pleaded guilty to two of the charges. Slightly more than a month after Garcia's arrest, USCIS sent Garcia a notice scheduling him to appear on November 9, 2006, for a “Re-Examination for Reading, Writing, or Speaking English, ” and “Naturalization Re-Interview.”
On November 9, 2006, Garcia appeared for a meeting with USCIS Officer Kevin Winn. Officer Winn retested Garcia on his English skills, and Garcia passed. Officer Winn also reviewed with Garcia his Form N-400. Questions 16 and 17 asked whether Garcia had ever been “arrested, cited, or detained by any law enforcement officer” or “charged with committing any crime.” Garcia listed two criminal incidents in New Jersey from the late 1990s, but he did not disclose the federal charges for which he had been indicted and arrested several months earlier. Question 23 asked whether Garcia had ever given false or misleading information to any U.S. official while applying for any immigration benefit, and Garcia checked the box designated as no. Garcia then signed Form N-400, certifying under penalty of perjury that the contents of the form were true and correct. Officer Winn recommended Garcia's application for approval.
USCIS approved Garcia's application in July 2007 and scheduled him to appear for a naturalization oath ceremony on August 14, 2007. The ceremony notice included Form N-445, asking whether Garcia had been, inter alia, cited, arrested, indicted, or convicted of any crime “AFTER the date you were first interviewed.” Although Garcia checked yes, he told USCIS Officer Edna Falls at the oath ceremony that his only intervening offense was a speeding violation, which Officer Falls noted on the form. Garcia never disclosed his August 2006 indictment or September 2006 arrest on federal charges. Garcia signed Form N-445 on August 14, 2007, certifying that it was true and correct. He became a naturalized citizen that day.

United States v. Garcia, 855 F.3d 615, 615-18 (4th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted).

         Officer Winn testified at trial that, during the re-interview on November 9, 2006, Petitioner did not ever mention that he had pending federal charges. (3:15-cr-40, Doc. No. 45 at 200).

         Officer Falls testified that her job entailed making decisions on applications regarding naturalization and permanent residency. (3:15-cr-40, Doc. No. 45 at 203). She would re-verify other officers' work and approve applications if they met the naturalization guidelines. (3:15-cr-40, Doc. No. 45 at 204-05). On August 14, 2007, she questioned Petitioner about the naturalization application immediately prior to the naturalization ceremony. With regards to question number three of form N-445, Falls wrote “speeding only” pursuant to Petitioner's response. (Id.). Petitioner did not mention to Falls that he had pled guilty to federal criminal charges and, “[i]f he had told me that, I would have pulled his application and we would have had to request papers for that crime. That would be a crime that would disqualify him.” (3:15-cr-40, Doc. No. 45 at 208) (emphasis added).

         The Government proposed jury instructions including the following elements: (1) defendant made false and misleading statements during the application process to become a United States citizen; (2) defendant made the statements knowingly; (3) the statements were contrary to the law; (4) defendant procured or attempted to procure naturalization and United States citizenship. ...


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