No specific law or code outlines how long the justice system has to charge people with marriage fraud. However, U.S. Code § 3282 establishes a five-year statute of limitations for all non-capital offenses for which there are no specific statutes of limitations. Therefore, there is a five-year statute of limitations on marriage fraud.
What Is Marriage Fraud?
In U.S. Code § 1325(c), marriage fraud is defined as when someone “knowingly enters into a marriage for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws.” Generally, marriage fraud occurs between a U.S. citizen and a foreign national seeking permanent resident status or a green card.
Why Is the Statute of Limitations Important in Marriage Fraud Cases?
A statute of limitations sets a deadline for plaintiffs to file lawsuits against those they believe are guilty of crimes. For marriage fraud cases, the statute of limitations requires the government to identify and charge a couple (or one member of the couple) within five years. In general, once that five-year deadline comes and goes, the couple (neither together nor individually) can be charged with marriage fraud.
The statute of limitations ensures that those who have committed marriage fraud are caught and charged in a timely manner. It also prevents the government from constantly surveilling couples they believe to have suspicious marriages, intending to wait and charge them once they have enough evidence.
How to Know When the Statute of Limitations Began in Your Marriage Fraud Case
Precedent supports that marriage fraud is not a “continuing” offense, meaning that the crime is committed upon a certain act. In marriage fraud cases, the crime is completed when the couple gets married. This same precedent orders courts to defer to the federal statute of limitations of five years for non-capital offenses found in U.S. Code § 3282.
Since marriage fraud can occur in different ways, your marriage fraud case may not have the same starting date for the statute of limitations. For example, one couple that falsified their marriage license may have their statute of limitations clock start when they sign the false documents. For another couple, it may start when the citizen accepts money to marry a foreign national for immigration purposes.
A criminal defense lawyer who handles marriage fraud cases can help you better understand when they believe the statute of limitations started and whether that deadline has passed. They can also present evidence and argue this fact in out-of-court negotiations and court hearings.
Why Is the Statute of Limitations Five Years?
In 2013, U.S. v. Rojas set the precedent for the five-year statute of limitations on marriage fraud. In this case, the government argued that the clock on the statute of limitations should not have begun running until investigators discovered that the defendant and his wife were in a fraudulent marriage.
However, the defendant argued that since he and his wife were married more than five years prior, the statute of limitations had already expired. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, establishing that marriage fraud is not a continuing or ongoing offense, and the statutory clock starts running when the marriage takes place.
How Many Years Can You Get in Prison for Marriage Fraud?
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), anyone found guilty of marriage fraud can face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000. That includes both the U.S. citizen and the foreign national.
U.S. citizens can also face additional felony charges, including visa fraud, conspiracy, harboring an alien, or making false statements — all of which could add more time to a prison sentence.
Foreign nationals will likely have their residency status or visa revoked and be denied all future visa applications for the U.S.
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Choose the Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg for Your Marriage Fraud Case
Our founding attorney, Randall B. Isenberg, has over 30 years of experience as a criminal justice legal professional. He has served on both sides of the bench, including terms as Senior Chief Felony Prosecutor and State District Trial Judge. Now, he’s dedicated to helping those accused of or charged with serious crimes. He’s state board certified in criminal defense and a nationally certified Criminal Defense Advocate.
If you are facing marriage fraud charges, the Law Offices of Randall B. Isenberg is here for you. We can review the facts of your case, determine how the statute of limitations applies, and help you navigate the complex justice system. Contact our office today for a free case review.