LOCATION:U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
DOCKET NO.: 94-514
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 515 US 506 (1995)
ARGUED: Apr 17, 1995
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1995
Michael R. Dreeben – on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard A. Hansen – on behalf of the Respondent
Media for United States v. Gaudin
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 19, 1995 in United States v. Gaudin
William H. Rehnquist:
The opinion of the Court, number 94-514 United States versus Gaudin will be announced by Justice Scalia.
This case is here on petition for certiorari to the Ninth Circuit.
Respondent Michael Gaudin, a real estate broker and developer made numerous false statements on Department of Housing and Urban Development loan documents.
He was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 1001, which makes it a crime to make false statements to the government.
At his trial the judge instructed the jury that the government had to prove that the false statements made by respondent were material, that is, that they had a natural tendency to influence or were capable of influencing HUD’s decision to ensure the loans, but, the judge also instructed the jury that it was for the court and not for the jury to decide that question of whether the false statements were material, and he instructed them that they were.
On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the trial judge’s refusal to submit the question of materiality to the jury violated respondent’s Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.
In the unanimous opinion today we affirm that decision.
We have repeatedly held that the Fifth and Sixth Amendments guarantee a criminal defendant, the right to have a jury determine his guilt or innocence on every element of the crime with which he is charged.
This right has an impressive pedigree.
Blackstone for example, described “trial by jury” as requiring that quote “the truth of every accusation should afterwards be confirmed by the unanimous suffrage of twelve of [the defendant’s] equals and neighbors.”
Justice Story wrote that the “trial by jury” guaranteed by the Constitution is “generally understood to mean… a trial by a jury of 12 men, who must unanimously concur in the guilt of the accused before a legal conviction can be had.”
In this case, the government conceded materiality as an element of guilt, that is, an element of the offense of violating 1001 and accordingly, it would seem that respondent had a right to have the jury not the judge to decide materiality.
The government offers essentially three arguments in response to this logic, the first is that the jury need not decide materiality because it is a purely legal question and that the principle requiring the jury to decide all of the client’s elements actually applies only to those essential elements factual components.
That position we find has no support in the case law.
Indeed our 1895 decision in Spar! v. United States as well as the more modern authorities on which the government relies 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.
The government’s next argument is that even if the jury generally must pass on all of the elements, there is an exception for materiality determinations with respect to false statements in perjury prosecutions (which are analogous to the determinations made in Section 1001 prosecutions).
Contrary to the government’s argument however there is no consistent historical tradition supporting this position, it was not until a 120 years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, that the rule the government with spouses was finally adopted in England not by judicial decision but by Parliament, and more importantly there was also no clear practice in this country at or near the time the Bill of Rights was adopted.
State in 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.
Although, a uniform postratification practice can assuredly 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 not ambiguous.
Finally, the government argues that stare decisis requires that respondent’s constitutional claim be denied.
The government relies on Sinclair v. United States, in which this court held that the materiality element in a statute criminalizing the making of false statements in a matter under congressional investigation was a question of law for the judge, we overrule that case today.
The decision manifestly erroneous, and the doctrine of the stare decisis has a little force with respect to this president which involves a procedural rule resting on an interpretation of the constitution, the underpinnings of which have been eroded by subsequent decisions.
Accordingly, the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is affirmed.
Our opinion as I said is unanimous.
The Chief Justice has filed a concurring opinion, in which Justices O’Connor and Breyer have joined.