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United States v. Ringer

August 08, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
ROBERT J. RINGER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. IP-00-41-CR-B/F--Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.

Before Cudahy, Coffey, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED APRIL 16, 2002

Robert J. Ringer appeals his 18 U.S.C. § 1001 conviction for making false statements to federal officers. At trial, Ringer moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that venue was improper in the Southern District of Indiana. The district court denied this motion, finding that venue was proper. In this direct appeal, Ringer argues that he did not waive his right to claim improper venue and appeals the district court's order denying his motion for acquittal. For the reasons given below, we affirm the district court and uphold Ringer's conviction.

I. BACKGROUND

Ringer was arrested for accepting delivery of approximately 295 pounds of marijuana and indicted on a charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. He agreed to plead guilty and provide drug trafficking information about other individuals in exchange for a government motion requesting a lesser sentence. During several debriefing sessions with the government, Ringer informed law enforcement agents of the drug trafficking activities of three friends. A federal agent followed up on Ringer's information and confirmed these initial statements. Ringer pled guilty as charged and was sentenced to 46 months' imprisonment, 14 months less than the 60-month mandatory minimum sentence.

While preparing to indict Ringer's friends, federal agents traveled to the federal prison in Manchester, Kentucky, where Ringer was serving his sentence, to reconfirm the information Ringer provided earlier. Instead of confirmation, Ringer recanted his previous statements and disavowed any knowledge of his friends' drug trafficking activities. He also said that he would testify to whatever the agents wished, nullifying his value as a government witness. Without his crucial testimony, the government had to drop the grand jury proceedings against Ringer's friends.

Ringer was then indicted in the Southern District of Indiana with making a false statement to federal officers. During his trial, Ringer filed a motion for acquittal due to improper venue at the close of the government's case. He argued that the government proved that he made false statements in the Eastern District of Kentucky but not in the Southern District of Indiana. The district court denied Ringer's motion and he was found guilty by a jury.

II. ANALYSIS

Ringer appeals the district court's denial of his motion for judgment of acquittal due to improper venue, which we review de novo. See United States v. Blassingame, 197 F.3d 271, 284 (7th Cir. 1999). On appeal, we must determine whether the government proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the crimes occurred in the district charged, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government. See United States v. Ochoa, 229 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2000).

A. Waiver

The government argues that Ringer waived his venue challenge because he did not object until the conclusion of the government's case. A claim of improper venue is waived if the issue is apparent on the face of the indictment and an objection is not made before the close of the government's case. See United States v. Brandon, 50 F.3d 464, 469 (7th Cir. 1995); United States v. John, 518 F.2d 705, 708 (7th Cir. 1975). However, if the indictment does not provide notice of a possible defect in venue and the government rests without proving that the crimes occurred in the district charged, the defendant may then file a venue objection in a motion for acquittal. See Brandon, 50 F.3d at 469; John, 518 F.2d at 709.

Ringer's indictment charged that "in the Southern District of Indiana, and elsewhere," he "did knowingly and willfully make a false, fraudulent, and fictitious material statement and representation . . . in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001." According to Ringer, the indictment's open-ended geographic scope gave no hint of a venue problem and the government's failure to present statements made in the Southern District of Indiana was not apparent before the government put forward its case. Therefore he claims that he was not put on notice through the indictment of a possible venue problem. We agree and find ...


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