United States v. Wells, 519 U.S. 482, 4 (1997)

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

Opinion of the Court

spondents supposedly conspired to provide the banks with versions of lease contracts purporting to indicate that Copytech's customers were responsible for servicing the equipment when, in fact, secret side agreements placed that responsibility on Copytech at no further cost to the lessees. See App. 24-25; 63 F. 3d 745, 748 (CA8 1995). The Government alleged that respondents concealed the service obligations in order to avoid tying up needed cash in reserve accounts, which the banks might have required Copytech to maintain if they had known of the company's servicing obligations. Ibid.

In Count II, respondents were charged with violating 1014 by giving a bank forgeries of respondents' wives' signatures on personal guaranties designed to enable the bank to pursue the wives' assets if Copytech defaulted on any liability to the bank. See App. 21, 30-31; 63 F. 3d, at 748.2 Each count of the indictment charged respondents with submitting one or more statements that were both false and "material." App. 24, 25, 29, 30-31.

At the end of the trial, the District Court instructed the jury, at the Government's behest, that withholding a "material fact" made a statement or representation false, id., at 41, 42, and defined a material fact as one "that would be important to a reasonable person in deciding whether to engage or not to engage in a particular transaction," id., at 42. Although there was no controversy over the law as stated in these instructions, the Government argued that materiality was for the judge to determine, while respondents said it was an issue for the jury. 63 F. 3d, at 749, nn. 3 and 4. Following Eighth Circuit precedent then prevailing, the District Court agreed with the Government and told the jury that "[t]he materiality of the statement . . . alleged to be false . . . is not a matter with which you are concerned and

2 The Government also charged respondents with three other counts of violating 1014. The District Court dismissed one count prior to trial and granted judgment of acquittal on the other two. 63 F. 3d, at 748; Brief for Respondents 2; Brief for United States 3, n. 1.

485

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