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Media Alerts - United States v. Sonmez -- Fourth Circuit
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April 9, 2015
  United States v. Sonmez -- Fourth Circuit
Headline: For Some, Marriage is a Word - For Others, a Sentence: Expansive Marriage Fraud Jury Instructions Rejected

Areas of Law: Immigration

Issues Presented: Whether it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to reject jury instructions related to a charge of marriage fraud that instructed the jury the government had to prove (1) the sole reason the defendant entered into the marriage was to obtain immigration benefits, and (2) the defendant had no intent to establish a life with his spouse.

Brief Summary: Fatih Sonmez is a Turkish national who came to the United States on a tourist visa in November 2000, but remained in the country beyond the date permitted. In November 2008, Sonmez married U.S. citizen Tina Eckloff, and quickly submitted an application for a green card.

While that application was pending, an investigation into alleged marriage fraud conducted by the Department of Homeland Security led officials to Eckloff, and her marriage to Sonmez. At Sonmez's trial, Eckloff testified that a friend introduced her to Sonmez at a restaurant. That friend also had married a foreign national so that he could obtain a green card. Eckloff testified she agreed to marry Sonmez in exchange for $2000. She also said the two were married about two weeks after their initial meeting. They moved into the same residence after the marriage in case anyone "came looking." Sonmez's story was markedly different from Eckloff's. He claimed the two had been dating for more than six months before their marriage. He also said they had a sexual relationship, frequently discussed marriage, and even attempted to have a child together - all of which Eckloff denied.
At the close of trial, Sonmez proposed jury instructions that described four elements as necessary for a conviction of marriage fraud. Two of these elements were that "the only reason the marriage was entered into was to obtain an immigration benefit," and that "the defendant and his US citizen spouse had no intent to establish a life together." The district court rejected these instructions, and Sonmez was convicted of marriage fraud. He appealed, arguing that his proposed instructions should have been accepted.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court decision. The marriage fraud statute applies whenever an individual knowingly enters into a marriage "for the purpose of evading any provision of the immigration laws." In accord with the majority of other circuits, the Fourth Circuit refused to read into the statute a requirement that evasion of immigration laws be the "sole" purpose for the marriage, as Sonmez's requested instructions would do.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, Shedd, and Keenan

Argument Date: 12/11/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/02/2015

Docket Number: No. 13-4577

Decided: Affirmed by Published Opinion

Case Alert Author: David Arnold, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Hassan Minhaj Ahmad, HMA LAW FIRM, PLLC, Herndon, Virginia, for Appellant. Paul Michael Cunningham, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Rod J. Rosenstein, United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Baltimore, Maryland, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Keenan

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 04/09/2015 01:40 PM     4th Circuit  

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