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CRM 500-999

971. Sufficiency of Indictment—Generally

Generally, Rule 7(c)(1) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requires an indictment to provide "a plain, concise and definite written statement of the essential facts constituting the offense charged." United States v. Yefsky, 994 F.2d 885, 893 (1st Cir. 1993) ("The Supreme Court has instructed that an indictment is sufficient if it contains the elements of the offense charged, fairly informs the defendant of the charges against which he must defend, and enables him to enter a plea without fear of double jeopardy.") (citing Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 117 (1974)); see also Collins v. Markley, 346 F.2d 230, 232 (7th Cir.) (en banc) ("The sufficiency of an indictment is to be measured by certain guide lines. First, the indictment standing alone must contain the elements of the offense intended to be charged, and it must be sufficient to apprise the accused of the nature of the offense. Second, after conviction, the record of the case must be sufficient so that the accused can plead the judgment in bar of any subsequent prosecution for the same offense."), cert. denied, 382 U.S. 946 (1965).

Accordingly, a mail fraud or wire fraud indictment should contain a reasonably detailed description of the particular scheme the defendant is charged with devising to ensure that the defendant has sufficient notice of the nature of the offense. See Yefsky, 994 F.2d at 893 ("The indictment may incorporate the words of the statute to set forth the offense, but the statutory language '"must be accompanied with such a statement of the facts and circumstances as will inform the accused of the specific offense, coming under the general description, with which he is charged."'") (quoting Hamling, 418 U.S. at 117-18 (quoting United States v. Hess, 124 U.S. 483, 487 (1888))); cf. United States v. Nance, 533 F.2d 699, 702 (D.C. Cir. 1976) (noting with approval mail fraud count that specifies misrepresentations); United States v. Curtis, 506 F.2d 985, 990 (10th Cir. 1974) (citations omitted) (dismissing mail fraud indictment that excludes false pretenses).

In Yefsky, the court held that the indictment was defective in that it did not provide the defendant with adequate notice of the charge (conspiracy to commit mail fraud) against him. 994 F.2d at 993 ("Where guilt depends so crucially upon . . . a specific identification of fact, . . . cases have uniformly held that an indictment must do more than simply repeat the language of the criminal statute.") (citing Hamling, 418 U.S. at 118).

In Curtis, the court stated the following in considering the sufficiency of the allegations contained in an indictment charging mail fraud:

Mere evidential matters or detail more appropriate in bills of particular need not be pleaded in an indictment based upon 1341. [citations omitted] But as these cases demonstrate, some substantial indication of the nature or character of any scheme or artifice to defraud, or to obtain money or property by means of false pretenses, representations or promises is requisite. And it is not sufficient in this regard to merely plead the statutory language. [citations omitted] A reference to the cases cited first above will disclose that in each instance the nature of the schemes or artifices is identified or described, including the particular pretenses, representations or promises claimed to have been false.

506 F.2d at 989-90 (holding that the indictment, which pleaded little more than the statutory language without any fair indication of the nature or character of the scheme or artifice relied upon, or the false pretenses, misrepresentations or promises forming a part of it, was fatally defective); see also United States v. Crummer, 151 F.2d 958 (10th Cir. 1945) ("While the particulars of the scheme are matters of substance and therefore must be described with a degree of certainty sufficient to show its existence of character, and fairly to acquaint the defendant with the particular fraudulent scheme charged against him, still the scheme itself need not be pleaded with all the certainty in respect of time, place, and circumstance requisite in charging the mailing of the letter or other matter.") (allegations of the scheme held to be sufficient), cert. denied, 327 U.S. 785 (1946); cf. United States v. Azad, 809 F.2d 291, 295 (6th Cir. 1986) ("What distinguishes this indictment from the indictment found defective in [Curtis], . . . is the clear and specific description of the fraudulent scheme found in the present indictment. The indictment before us does provide some 'substantial indication of the nature or character' of the scheme involved, and 'the scheme itself need not be pleaded with all the certainty in respect of time, place, and circumstance requisite in charging the mailing of the letter or other matter.'" ) (quoting Curtis, 506 F.2d at 990), cert. denied, 481 U.S. 1004 (1987); United States v. Adamo, 534 F.2d 31, 35 (3d Cir.) ("The Curtis indictment was so vague that trial might have proceeded upon an entirely different concept of the scheme than that contemplated by the grand jury when it returned the indictment. By contrast, the indictment in this case explicitly outlines the elements of the fraudulent plan."), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 841 (1976).

[cited in JM 9-43.100]