U.S. v. Gaudin

Decision Date19 June 1995
Docket Number94514
Citation515 U.S. 506,132 L.Ed.2d 444,115 S.Ct. 2310
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner v. Michael E. GAUDIN
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus *

Respondent was charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 by making false statements on Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan documents. After instructing the jury that the Government had to prove, inter alia, that the alleged false statements were material to HUD's activities and decisions, the District Court added that the issue of materiality is a matter for the court to decide rather than the jury and that the statements in question were material. The jury convicted respondent, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that taking the question of materiality from the jury violated the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.

Held: The trial judge's refusal to submit the question of "materiality" to the jury was unconstitutional. Pp. ____.

(a) The Fifth and Sixth Amendments require criminal convictions to rest upon a jury determination that the defendant is guilty of every element of the crime with which he is charged. Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. ----, ----, 113 S.Ct. 2078, 2080-2081, 124 L.Ed.2d 182. The Government concedes that "materiality" is an element of the offense that the Government must prove under § 1001. Pp. ____.

(b) The question whether the defendant's statement was material to the federal agency's decision is the sort of mixed question of law and fact that has typically been resolved by juries. See, e.g., TSC Industries, Inc. v. Northway, Inc., 426 U.S. 438, 450, 96 ,S.Ct. 2126, 2132-2133, 48 L.Ed.2d 757. The Government's position that the principle requiring the jury to decide all of a crime's elements applies to only the essential elements' factual components has no support in the case law. Sparf v. United States, 156 U.S. 51, 90, 15 S.Ct. 273, 288-289, 39 L.Ed. 343, and the other authorities on which the Government relies, e.g., Sullivan, supra, 508 U.S., at ----, 113 S.Ct., at 2080-2081, all confirm that the jury's constitutional responsibility is not merely to determine the facts, but to apply the law to those facts and draw the ultimate conclusion of guilt or innocence. Pp. ____.

(c) There is no consistent historical tradition to support the Government's argument that, even if the jury generally must pass on all of a crime's elements, there is an exception for materiality determinations with respect to false statements in perjury prosecutions (which are analogous to the determinations made in § 1001 prosecutions). There was no clear practice of having the judge determine the materiality question in this country at or near the time the Bill of Rights was adopted. Indeed, state and federal cases appear not to have addressed the question until the latter part of the 19th century, at which time they did not display anything like the virtual unanimity claimed by the Government. Though uniform postratification practice can shed light upon the meaning of an ambiguous constitutional provision, the practice here is not uniform, and the core meaning of the constitutional guarantees is unambiguous. Pp. ____.

(d) The Government's contention that stare decisis requires respondent's constitutional claim to be denied is rejected. Sinclair v. United States, 279 U.S. 263, 298, 49 S.Ct. 268, 273, 73 L.Ed. 692, is overruled. Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 772, 108 S.Ct. 1537, 1547, 99 L.Ed.2d 839, distinguished. Pp. ____.

28 F.3d 943 (CA9 1994), affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a concurring opinion, in which O'CONNOR and BREYER, JJ., joined.

Michael R. Dreeben, Washington, DC, for petitioner.

Richard A. Hansen, Seattle, WA, for respondent.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In the trial at issue here, respondent was convicted of making material false statements in a matter within the jurisdiction of a federal agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. The question presented is whether it was constitutional for the trial judge to refuse to submit the question of "materiality" to the jury.

I

In the 1980s, respondent engaged in a number of real estate transactions financed by loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), an agency within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Respondent would purchase rental housing, renovate it, obtain an inflated appraisal, and sell it to a "strawbuyer" (a friend or relative), for whom respondent would arrange an FHA-insured mortgage loan. Then, as prearranged, respondent would repurchase the property (at a small profit to the strawbuyer) and assume the mortgage loan. Twenty-nine of these ventures went into default.

Respondent was charged by federal indictment with, among other things, multiple counts of making false statements on federal loan documents in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Two of these counts charged that respondent had made false statements on HUD/FHA form 92800-5 by knowingly inflating the appraised value of the mortgaged property. The other false-statement counts charged that respondent had made misrepresentations on HUD/FHA form HUD-1, the settlement form used in closing the sales of the properties. Line 303 of this form requires disclosure of the closing costs to be paid or received by the borrower/buyer and the seller. The forms executed by respondent showed that the buyer was to pay some of the closing costs, whereas in fact he, the seller, had arranged to pay all of them. To prove the materiality of these false statements, the Government offered the testimony of several persons charged with administering FHA/HUD programs, who explained why the requested information was important.

At the close of the evidence, the United States District Court for the District of Montana instructed the jury that, to convict respondent, the Government was required to prove, inter alia, that the alleged false statements were material to the activities and decisions of HUD. But, the court further instructed, "[t]he issue of materiality . . . is not submitted to you for your decision but rather is a matter for the decision of the court. You are instructed that the statements charged in the indictment are material statements." App. 24, 29. The jury convicted respondent of the § 1001 charges.

A panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed these convictions because Circuit precedent dictated that materiality in a § 1001 prosecution be decided by the jury. 997 F.2d 1267 (1993). On rehearing en banc, the Court of Appeals stood by this precedent. It held that taking the question of materiality from the jury denied respondent a right guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution. 28 F.3d 943 (1994). We granted certiorari. 513 U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 713, 130 L.Ed.2d 621 (1995).

II

Section 1001 of Title 18 provides:

"Whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States knowingly and wilfully falsifies, conceals or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact, or makes any false, fictitious or fraudulent statements or representations, or makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or entry, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."

It is uncontested that conviction under this provision requires that the statements be "material" to the Government inquiry, and that "materiality" is an element of the offense that the Government must prove. The parties also agree on the definition of "materiality": the statement must have "a natural tendency to influence, or [be] capable of influencing, the decision of the decisionmaking body to which it was addressed." Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 770, 108 S.Ct. 1537, 1546, 99 L.Ed.2d 839 (1988) (internal quotation marks omitted). The question for our resolution is whether respondent was entitled to have this element of the crime determined by the jury.

The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that no one will be deprived of liberty without "due process of law"; and the Sixth, that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury." We have held that these provisions require criminal convictions to rest upon a jury determination that the defendant is guilty of every element of the crime with which he is charged, beyond a reasonable doubt.1 Sullivan v. Louisiana, 508 U.S. ----, ----, 113 S.Ct. 2078, 2080-2081, 124 L.Ed.2d 182 (1993). The right to have a jury make the ultimate determination of guilt has an impressive pedigree. Blackstone described "trial by jury" as requiring that "the truth of every accusation, whether preferred in the shape of indictment, information, or appeal, should afterwards be confirmed by the unanimous suffrage of twelve of [the defendant's] equals and neighbors. . . ." 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 343 (1769) (emphasis added). Justice Story wrote that the "trial by jury" guaranteed by the Constitution was "generally understood to mean . . . a trial by a jury of twelve men, impartially selected, who must unanimously concur in the guilt of the accused before a legal conviction can be had." 2 J. Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States 541, n. 2 (4th ed. 1873) (emphasis added and deleted).2 This right was designed "to guard against a spirit of oppression and tyranny on the part of rulers," and "was from very early times insisted on by our ancestors in the parent country, as the great bulwark of their civil and political liberties." Id., at 540-541. See also Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 151-154, 88 S.Ct. 1444, 1448-1450, 20 L.Ed.2d 491 (1968) (tracing the history of trial by jury).

III

Thus far, the resolution of the question before us...

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