The Kansas Court of Appeals has reversed Barton County District Judge Ron Svaty’s decision to set aside the identity theft conviction of a woman from Mexico living illegally in Barton County.
A jury found Melissa Valles guilty of illegally using the Social Security number of a Colorado resident to obtain employment at Red Barn and McDonald’s in 2013 and 2014. However, the judge granted a motion to arrest judgment, essentially ruling that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case, in 2015.
The Barton County Attorney’s office appealed that decision, and the Court of Appeals agreed that the trial judge was incorrect in his decision, County Attorney Amy Mellor said.
Arguing the State’s case to the three-judge panel on the Court of Appeals, then-County Attorney Doug Matthews contended that a change in the law allowed the case to continue even though the language used in the complaint to charge Valles was technically incorrect.
The judges on the Court agreed, holding that the complaint was sufficient since it alleged facts that, if proven beyond a reasonable doubt, would show that Valles had committed a crime in Kansas. Because Valles understood the charges being brought against her, she was able to present a defense, even though that defense was unsuccessful.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial judge erred by granting the motion. The case will now be returned to Barton County for sentencing before a different judge.
Valles, now around 32 years old, could face a standard sentence of eight months in prison followed by post-release supervision.
According to a story in The Topeka Capital-Journal, (goo.gl/V0Y91w) Svaty predicted his ruling was likely to be reversed but felt he had “enough of a basis to grant the motion.” He said he hoped that would delay a decision long enough for the defendant’s oldest son, who was 16 in 2015, to turn 18 years old and care for the other children in the family before their mother went to prison.
“I think I’m going to be overturned. I hope I’m not, but I think I will be, so — and I know you care for your children and you love them, and you need to prepare them for the fact that someday you won’t be with them and your oldest child is going to have to take care of them, and hopefully, we get that much time, so I’m granting the defendant’s motion,” Svaty reportedly told her.
Melissa Valles moved to Kansas from Mexico without documentation in 2003, joining her husband, who had a valid work permit. The Capital-Journal, citing court documents, reports she was a mother of one and pregnant with a second child. She and her husband divorced after he attempted to sexually abuse her eldest daughter and the ex-husband fled back to Mexico. At the time of her conviction in 2015, she was a single mother of five in the country illegally and was denied a humanitarian visa.
Valles worked at a Great Bend buffet where she was paid in cash for a time, but was fired when her boss asked for her Social Security number and she didn’t have one. She reportedly paid $100 to obtain the Colorado woman’s Social Security number.
Court records show her defense attorney, Donald E. Anderson II, argued that Valles used her real name and wasn’t defrauding anyone. “She used the identification to obtain a job. She worked,” he said.
The county attorney’s office argued the Social Security number was not hers.
Agencies involved in the original investigation were the Barton County Sheriff’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office of the Social Security Administration. Amy Mellor prosecuted the case for the Barton County Attorney’s Office ad Douglas Matthews filed the appeal and argued the case to the Court of Appeals.