A criminal case of mistaken identity shows the weakness of not doing full data matching. This was the case for Laura Cervantes of Avenal, California. The ability to do a full identity match, using a full name, a full date of birth, and a complete driver’s license number is often the key to preventing fraud against a business or government agency, and can also help make sure that the police do not arrest the wrong person.

Laura Cervantes of Avenal, California was 49 years old when she was pulled over in Hanford, California, on the afternoon of May 4, 2017. Hanford police officer Joshua Chavez made the stop for an expired registration on her license plate. Cervantes’ wrongful arrest, based on mistaken identity, came about because, according to a court opinion, the arresting officer, Officer Chavez, “did not take the basic steps to compare Cervantes’ other basic information with that of the warrant’s true subject[,]” Laura Alicia Cervantes.[1] Following her roadside arrest, Cervantes was taken to “the Kings County Jail, where she was fingerprinted, photographed, strip searched, and detained for approximately ten hours before posting bail. Cervantes received a judicial clearance on May 17, 2017, prior to her scheduled court date, when a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge determined that she was not the true subject of the warrant.”[2]

Cervantes sued Officer Chavez and while the federal court ruled on procedural grounds of whether the officer was entitled to qualified immunity, the federal court found that “It is clearly established that a mistaken identity arrest based on ‘superficial congruence of names’ alone is unreasonable [in connection with making the arrest].”[3]

When identifiers are stripped from a decision, like an application for a job, an apartment, a volunteer opportunity, or government benefits, getting the right match is difficult, and perhaps impossible. A lack of a match can mean more fraud and could pose a threat to public safety. The lack of a match also means the right job, apartment, volunteer opportunity, or government benefit, goes to the wrong person, or not to the intended applicant. Data matching is key.

[1] Cervantes v. Chavez, No. 1:18-cv-00629-LJO-SKO, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 181024, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2018).

[2] Id., at *2-3 (citations omitted).

[3] Id., at *12.