Black v. United States

130 S. Ct. 2963



18 U.S.C.S. § 1341 criminalizes use of the mails to further any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises. 18 U.S.C.S. § 1346 defines the § 1341 term “scheme or artifice to defraud” to include a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.


At trial, the United States pursued alternative mail fraud theories: (1) money-or-property fraud; and (2) honest-services fraud. Defendants were found guilty of mail fraud, under 18 U.S.C.S. §§1341, 1346. Defendants appealed, urging the invalidity of the jury instructions on honest-services fraud. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Were the jury instructions on the honest-services fraud case valid?




The Supreme Court held in another case that 18 U.S.C.S. § 1346, properly confined, criminalized only schemes to defraud that involved bribes or kickbacks. Thus, the honest-services instructions were incorrect. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure were silent as to the submission of special questions to a jury. However, Fed. R. Crim. P. 30(d)clarified what counsel had to do to preserve a claim of error regarding an instruction. Defendants complied with Fed. R. Crim. P. 30(d). The court of appeals, in essence, added a further requirement for preservation of a meaningful objection to jury instructions. Fed. R. Crim. P. 57(b) was designed to ward off that kind of judicial invention. The Supreme Court found that, by properly objecting to the honest-services jury instructions at trial, defendants secured their right to challenge those instructions on appeal. They did not forfeit that right by declining to acquiesce in the proposed special-verdict forms.

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