The Iowa House this week voted to make the penalty for all identity theft cases a felony.
Representative Mark Brandenburg, a Republican from Council Bluffs, urged legislators to endorse the change.
“Currently, if the value of the credit, property or services stolen are under $1000, the person only commits an aggravated misdemeanor,” Brandenburg said.
If the bill becomes law, all identity theft convictions in Iowa — regardless of the size of the theft — would be a class D felony. The sentence for a Class D felony can be up to five years in prison and a fine as high as $7500.
“This will also align Iowa identity theft Code with the current penalties in the Iowa Code for forged checks,” Brandenburg said.
Representative Mary Wolfe, a Democrat from Clinton, was one of just 11 members of the Iowa House who voted against the bill.
“I think this is yet another one of those bills that we’re just enhancing penalties with no evidence that it will make Iowa a safer place to live or will provide any kind of short or long term benefits,” Wolfe said.
Brandenburg argued this change will be a deterrent.
“This last weekend…I was at the grocery store and a constituent (came) up to me and indicated that their identity had been stolen and they had three different, separate withdrawals from their debt account — one for $400, one for $600 and one for $900,” Brandenburg said. “…This individual is keeping his or her theft under $1000, obviously, because they don’t want to be charged with a felony.”
According to Wolfe, prosecutors are “lukewarm” about the change.
“Currently it is fairly standard for prosecutors to plea these down from the felony level to the misdemeanor level,” Wolfe said. “…I think we’re going to see a lot more of these cases going to trial because there’s really no reason to plead guilty.”
An aggravated misdemeanor carries a maximum fine of $6500 and prison time of up to two years. Wolfe said if the bill becomes law, it means someone caught using someone else’s credit card to buy a pack of cigarettes will face a felony charge and up to five years in prison.
“It’s going to be a burden on the court system,” Wolfe said. “It’s going to cost the state a lot more in the way of court-appointed attorney fees and that type of thing and I do think we’ll have a lot more people going to prison.”
A Legislative Services Agency analysis concludes about a dozen more people will be sentenced to state prisons each year if the bill becomes law. In addition, fewer people convicted of identity theft will serve time in county jails. In the past year over 400 identity theft cases were filed in Iowa courts, but more than half were either dismissed or the accused person was acquitted.
The bill increasing identity theft penalties that cleared the House this week must clear the senate, too, and get the governor’s approval before it can become law.
AUDIO of House debate