“Simply because a statement is false or misleading does not automatically make it material.” For a defendant facing charges of mail fraud, the jury instruction on the element of materiality cuts both ways. Yes, you may have made some statements that were false or misleading, but that does not mean you are guilty—after all, your lies have to be material. The instruction entrusts the jury with picking which lies count and which lies do not. Any defendant relying on materiality argues from knee-deep in a hole dug with their own words.

When Christin Didier, a former Miss Montana USA, was indicted on charges of mail fraud, the jury had to determine the materiality of her characterization of a “rustic” cabin as an expensive, expansive, mansion replacement. The jury found Didier guilty of mail fraud, but the district court set aside the verdict and granted her motion for acquittal, citing a lack of evidence in the government’s case proving materiality. The government has appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where the materiality of Didier’s lies and the ambiguity of her homeowner’s insurance policy will be the focal points of oral argument.