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Criminal Resource Manual

223. Requirement of Specificity

The second part of the sufficiency test, apprising the defendant of what he or she must be prepared to meet incorporates the specificity requirement of the Sixth Amendment. The specificity requirement serves to insure that a defendant only has to answer to charges actually brought by the grand jury and not a prosecutor's interpretation of the charges, that the defendant is apprised of the charges against him in order to permit preparation of his defense, and that the defendant is protected against double jeopardy. See United States v. Haas, 583 F.2d 216 (5th Cir.), reh'g denied, 588 F.2d 829, cert. denied, 440 U.S. 981 (1978).

An example of an indictment which failed this test is provided by United States v. Nance, 533 F.2d 699 (D.C. Cir. 1976). The indictment in Nance charged a false pretense violation pursuant to the D.C. Code. It listed the name of each victim, the date of the false representation, the amount each victim lost, and the date the sum was paid to the defendants, but was fatally defective as a consequence of its failure to specify the false representation which induced the victims to pay the money to the defendants. See also United States v. Brown, 995 F.2d 1493, 1504-05 (10th Cir.)(indictment charging controlling premises and making them available for storing and distributing cocaine base insufficient because failed to state how control was exercised), cert. denied, 114 S.Ct. 353 (1993).

The indictment, though, need only satisfy a defendant's constitutional right to know what he or she is charged with and not the evidentiary details which will be used to establish his commission of the offense. See United States v. Blinder, 10 F.3d 1468, 1476 (9th Cir. 1993)(indictment charging RICO violation in omitting material facts sufficient despite lack of detailed explanations of omissions); United States v. Chappell, 6 F.3d 1095, 1099-100 (5th Cir. 1993)(indictment met requirements of alerting defendants to charges and was sufficient despite possibility of being more carefully drafted), cert. denied, 114 S.Ct. 1235 (1994); United States v. Diecidue, 603 F.2d 535, 547 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, Gispert v. United States, 445 U.S. 946 (1980).

In determining whether an indictment sufficiently informs the defendant of the offense, courts give the indictment a common sense construction. United States v. Drew, 722 F.2d 551, 552-53 (9th Cir. 1983)(indictments charging defendants with acting knowingly and willfully sufficient although failing to track statutory language alleging "unlawful or fraudulent intent" because, under common sense reading, defendants informed of charge), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1216 (1984); United States v. Reed, 721 F.2d 1059, 1061-62 (6th Cir. 1983)(indictment charging defendants with conspiring with others sufficient because, under common sense reading, it also charged defendants with conspiring with one another).