United States v. Wells, 519 U.S. 482, 2 (1997)

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Cite as: 519 U. S. 482 (1997)


(a) The falsehood's materiality—i. e., its "natural tendency to influence, or capa[bility] of influencing, the decision of the . . . body to which it was addressed," Kungys v. United States, 485 U. S. 759, 770— would not be an element of 1014 under the first criterion in the statutory interpretation hierarchy, a natural reading of the full text, see United States v. American Trucking Assns., Inc., 310 U. S. 534, 542- 543. The section's text—which criminalizes "knowingly mak[ing] any false statement or report . . . for the purpose of influencing in any way the action" of a federally insured bank "upon any application, advance, . . . commitment, or loan"—nowhere says that a material fact must be the subject of the false statement or so much as mentions materiality. To the contrary, its terms cover "any" false statement that meets the statute's other requirements, and the term "false statement" carries no general suggestion of influential significance, see, e. g., Kungys, supra, at 781. Nor have respondents come close to showing that at common law the term "false statement" acquired any implication of materiality that came with it into 1014. See, e. g., Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Darden, 503 U. S. 318, 322. Finally, statutory history confirms the natural reading of 1014. When Congress enacted 1014, it consolidated into one section 3 prior provisions that had included an explicit materiality requirement, and 10 that did not, and Congress enacted other provisions that included express materiality requirements. The most likely inference is that Congress did not intend materiality to be an element of 1014. United States v. Shabani, 513 U. S. 10, 13-14. In addition, Congress enacted 1014 after Kay v. United States, 303 U. S. 1, which stands in the way of any assumption that Congress might have understood 1014 to contain an implicit materiality requirement. Pp. 489-495. (b) Respondents' arguments for affirmance—that Congress has ratified decisions holding materiality to be a 1014 element by repeatedly amending the statute without rejecting those decisions; that the failure of the 1948 Reviser's Note to 1014 to mention the section's omission of the materiality element contained in 3 of its 13 predecessor statutes means that Congress must have overlooked the issue; that materiality must be read into the statute to avoid the improbability that Congress intended to impose substantial criminal penalties on relatively trivial or innocent conduct; and that the rule of lenity must be applied here—are unavailing to change the straightforward reading of 1014. Pp. 495-499. (c) Since respondents' further arguments—that because the instruction taking materiality from the jury probably left the impression that respondents' statements as alleged were material, the instructions influenced the jury in passing on the falsity and purpose elements; and that because the indictment alleged materiality, any ruling that materiality need not be shown in this case would impermissibly "amend" the


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