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United States v. O'Neill

June 17, 1997

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

RICKY L. O'NEILL, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 96 CR 22 Larry J. McKinney, Judge.

Before PELL, KANNE, and DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.

PELL, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED MARCH 26, l997

DECIDED JUNE 17, 1997

Ricky O'Neill was a peripheral participant in a large-scale marijuana distribution ring which centered around Robert Iatarola, a marijuana distributor, and Robert Ridings, a drug dealer who often bought marijuana from Iatarola. Ridings would typically rent two cars to drive to Iatarola's home in Nashville, Indiana to buy marijuana; Ridings would drive one car and O'Neill would often drive the other. O'Neill and Ridings traveled to Iatarola's home to purchase marijuana between ten and fifteen times. On these trips, O'Neill met Iatarola, and often smoked cocaine with Iatarola and Ridings. O'Neill also met Bill Rall, another one of Ridings's suppliers.

O'Neill also knew many of Ridings's customers. On various occasions, O'Neill accompanied Ridings to the home of Peter LaMantia, one of Ridings's major customers, whom O'Neill also knew socially. O'Neill knew many of Ridings's other customers by sight and name.

In 1989, the DEA arrested Ridings. As part of his plea agreement, Ridings identified Iatarola as one of his sources of marijuana. Ridings also identified O'Neill and described his role in the marijuana distribution scheme.

In 1991, O'Neill testified under a grant of statutory immunity before a federal grand jury investigating Iatarola. Although O'Neill admitted to accompanying Ridings on his trips to buy marijuana, he denied ever having met Iatarola or even knowing from whom Ridings purchased marijuana. Instead, he stated that Ridings would leave him at a bar while he (Ridings) actually purchased the marijuana. O'Neill further stated that Ridings followed a similar procedure when they re-sold the marijuana, and thus, O'Neill denied knowing any of Ridings's customers.

In 1995, O'Neill was charged in a 1-count indictment with making a false material declaration before a federal grand jury. 18 U.S.C. sec. 1623(a). The indictment charged him with falsely stating "that he did not know the names of either Ridings'[s] marijuana sources or his marijuana customers; that he did not know from whom Ridings' [sic] acquired marijuana, that he did not know a Robert Iatarola; and that he never knew or met the people to whom Ridings took marijuana."

The case was tried before a jury. After both sides had presented their respective arguments, the court held a conference in chambers to discuss jury instructions. O'Neill requested that the court instruct the jury that it could not find him guilty of perjury for making statements before the grand jury which were literally true, but were nonresponsive to the question asked and were therefore misleading or false only by implication. The court refused to give the proffered instruction, and O'Neill then entered his objection into the record. The jury returned a verdict of guilty, and the court sentenced O'Neill to 27 months' imprisonment. This appeal followed.

Discussion

O'Neill raises two points on appeal. He first argues that under Bronston v. United States, 409 U.S. 352 (1973), the district court erred by refusing to give his proffered instruction regarding literally true but misleading answers. The government contends, however, that O'Neill did not object properly to the court's refusal to give the proffered instruction, and thus, that we may review the court's refusal only for plain error.

After the in-chambers instructions conference, O'Neill's attorney read the following objection into the record:

Defendant objects to the Court's refusal to include defendant's Proposed Instruction Number 2 [relating to literally true but misleading statements made under oath]. Some of the testimony of Mr. O'Neill, which is charged in the indictment, that having been a false declaration of the grand jury, is the type described in the Bronston, B-r-o-n-s-t-o-n, case, in that some of the questions are subject to the interpretation that the answer was literally true, but was non-responsive in such a way as to imply that the answer was false.

According to the government, this objection does not satisfy Rule 30 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Rule 30 requires that, in order to raise an argument concerning jury instructions on appeal, a party must object to the instructions, "stating distinctly the matter to which the party objects and the grounds of the objection." The government submits that O'Neill's objection was inadequate because it failed to specify which statements that O'Neill made to the grand jury fell under the Bronston rule.

Although there is some persuasive appeal to the government's position on this issue, we on the facts here involved find there is no reason to accept the government's position. The purpose of Rule 30 is to alert the district court to potential problems in jury instructions and thereby avert any error in the first place. United States v. Young, 997 F.2d 1204, 1208 (7th Cir. 1993). The government makes no claim that O'Neill failed to present adequately his objection at the jury instructions conference. Having done so, O'Neill was not required to adhere to any "formalities of language and style" to preserve his objection on the record. United States v. Martinez, 988 F.2d 685, 698 (7th Cir.) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 841 (1993). It is enough in this case that O'Neill's objection stated distinctly the matter to which he objected -- the court's refusal to give the Bronston instruction -- and the grounds for his objection -- his belief that some of his answers were literally true but misleading. See id. (objection to refusal to give jury instruction preserved for appellate review even though counsel did not quote the particular portion of testimony relied upon); see also United States v. Addo, 989 F.2d 238, 243 n.2 (7th Cir. 1993) (objection that "there is not any evidence in this record" to warrant instruction held sufficient to preserve objection for appellate review).

Having determined that O'Neill preserved this objection for appellate review, we turn now to the propriety of the district court's refusal to tender the proposed instruction. O'Neill contends that under Bronston, the district court should have instructed the jury that an answer which was literally true but non-responsive to the question asked, and was therefore misleading, could not constitute a false declaration. *fn1 Although the proffered instruction is a correct statement of the law, see United States v. Chaplin, 25 F.3d 1373, 1377, 1380 (7th Cir. 1994); United States v. Laikin, 583 F.2d 968, 970-71 (7th Cir. 1978) (applying Bronston to prosecutions under sec. 1623), the district court correctly ...


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