United States v. Ashurov, No. 12-2711 (Aug. 12, 2013): Defendant, a citizen of Tajikistan, entered the United States under a visitor's visa and subsequently sought to obtain an F-1 student visa that would permit him to enroll in an English language program and temporarily remain in the U.S.. As part of the F-1 student visa application process, Ashurov signed a student certification form (Form I-20) agreeing to comply with the terms and conditions of his admission as a student and certifying that he was seeking admission for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study. Ashurov completed the Form I-20 once a year for three consecutive years. The certification was not made under oath or penalty of perjury. An investigation of Ashurov's school eventually revealed that the school was not in compliance with federal regulations and, further, that Ashurov was not in compliance with the terms and conditions of his student visa, despite repeatedly certifying on his Form I-20 that he was in compliance.
Ashurov was convicted after trial of presenting a materially false statement in an immigration form, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a), but the district court entered a judgment of acquittal concluding that the government failed to prove that Ashurov made any statements under oath. The United States appealed, asking that the conviction be reinstated because the "knowingly presents" clause of § 1546(a), which Ashurov was charged with violating, did not require that the materially false statement be made under oath.
After considering the plain language of the statute, various canons of statutory construction, the legislative history of the statute, the statute's purpose, and the single precedential case previously interpreting the statute, the Third Circuit concluded that there remained a grievous ambiguity as to the meaning of the "knowingly presents" clause of § 1546(a) and whether it required that the false statement be made under oath. Accordingly, applying the rule of lenity to the "needlessly convoluted statute," the Court ruled in Ashurov's favor and upheld the judgment of acquittal.
Congratulations to Brett Sweitzer and the Philadelphia Federal Community Defender Office on the win!