Maryland's highest court overturned yesterday a Howard County man's conviction on identity theft charges, ruling that the state law is ambiguous and can't be used to prosecute someone who takes the identity of a fictitious person.
The law prohibits someone from assuming the "identity of another" -- which is what police charged Kazeem Adeshina Ishola with doing in 2003 when they said he tried to open bank accounts under two fictitious names.
But a majority of judges on the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the law hadn't properly defined what "another" meant, and that state legislators hadn't explicitly banned the use of fake names in the statute.
Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler said the decision means legislators probably will have to revise the state's identity theft law to ensure that it applies in cases in which people fraudulently use fake names.
"It's legalese," Gansler said. "But obviously in the wake of this decision, it needs to be clarified."
Ishola, 39, was found guilty in state court in 2005, but he appealed the verdict on grounds that the use of a fictitious name was not specifically banned by the law. The state Court of Special Appeals affirmed Ishola's conviction last year, a decision the Court of Appeals overturned yesterday.
Julie Schiller, the public defender who argued the case before the court, said other states have included the ban on using fictitious names in their identity fraud statutes.
"From the plain language of the statute, I thought it was ambiguous," she said.
The statute says that a "person may not knowingly and willfully assume the identity of another" in order to avoid prosecution for a crime, fraudulently obtain something of value or avoid payment of debt.
Two of the seven judges dissented, arguing that legislators could not have intended the "illogical result" of allowing a perpetrator to escape prosecution by using a fake identity.
Schiller said the law needs to be clarified.
"If the legislature determines that the assumption of fictitious identities is something they want covered, they have to go back and draft legislation," she said.