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SCOTUS Overturns McDonnell Bribery Conviction

SCOTUS Overturns McDonnell Bribery Conviction

They believe that setting up meetings or events do not qualify as an official act.

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s bribery conviction.

They do not think the prosecutors proved “he took significant official actions in exchange for the $175,000 in gifts and loans he received from a wealthy businessman.”

From The Washington Post:

The decision was written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

“If the court below determines that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Governor McDonnell of committing or agreeing to commit an ‘official act,’ his case may be set for a new trial,” Roberts wrote. “If the court instead determines that the evidence is insufficient, the charges against him must be dismissed. We express no view on that question.”

Roberts added: “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that. But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”

In Monday’s ruling, Roberts wrote: “Setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event does not, standing alone, qualify as an ‘official act.’”

He said that for prosecutors to prevail, they must identify a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” that “may at any time be pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official.”

He added:

“Conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns—whether it is the union official worried about a plant closing or the homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore power to their neighborhood after a storm,” Roberts wrote.

“The Government’s position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships if the union had given a campaign contribution in the past or the homeowners invited the official to join them on their annual outing to the ballgame. Officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse,” the chief justice added.

Justice Stephen Bryer also expressed “concern that the Justice Department could wield ‘enormous power’ and that prosecutors could be ‘overly zealous.’ He also repeatedly stressed concern that such laws could put at risk ‘behavior that is common.'”

However, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, felt that McDonnell wanted to help his friend:

Trial testimony and exhibits, she said, showed that University of Virginia officials “felt pressured” to conduct the studies. “They perceived that he was trying to influence them,” she said.

In September 2014, a grand jury found McDonnell guilty of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion after “he and his wife received money and loans (around $175,000 and a Rolex watch) from Jonnie R. Williams, the CEO of a Virginia based company called Star Scientific.” In exchange, he used his power as governor “to help Williams’ company.”

The decision could affect other officials who have faced bribery accusations:

McDonnell’s lawyers contended that he did nothing unusual to help Williams, a friend of his wife’s, nor asked anyone else to do so. Phone calls and referrals to government agencies, they said, were routine actions.

“Officials routinely arrange meetings for donors, take their calls, politely listen to their ideas and refer them to aides,” Noel Francisco argued in legal papers. “In criminalizing those everyday acts, the government has put every federal, state, and local official nationwide in its prosecutorial crosshairs.”

But Roberts did not excuse McDonnell’s behavior:

“None of this, of course, is to suggest that the facts of this case typify normal political interaction between public officials and their constituents” he wrote. “Far from it. But the government’s legal interpretation is not confined to cases involving extravagant gifts or large sums of money, and we cannot construe a criminal statute on the assumption that the government will ‘use it responsibly.’”


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Humphrey's Executor | June 27, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Bill and Hillary are surely pleased by this one. Talk about influence peddling.

    Perhaps, but after all McDonnell was in any case guilty of being a Republican. Compare the reactions to the Nixon and Clinton scandals – it seems pretty clear that being a Republican is a criminal act.

      Humphrey's Executor in reply to mzk. | June 27, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      Indeed, like the bogus prosecutions Tom Delay, Ted Stevens and, lately, Rick Perry.

Presumed guilty. Although, the cases are peculiarly selective or pro-choice.

“In September 2014, a grand jury found McDonnell guilty of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion after “he and his wife received money and loans (around $175,000 and a Rolex watch) from Jonnie R. Williams, the CEO of a Virginia based company called Star Scientific.”

I’m not a lawyer so I could be wrong, but grand juries don’t determine guilt. They return indictments for a case to go to trial.

SCOTUS is on a roll today, and not in a good way. SOTUS even made the point that “these acts, ALONE, do not constitute official acts.” But these acts ALONE were not what indicted the governor.

If the receiving of gifts while in public office is NOT currently a crime, then it ought to be made so.

    Humphrey's Executor in reply to Paul. | June 27, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    Gifts, sure. But what about campaign contributions? Or donations to the Family “Charitable Foundation”? Or large “speaking fees”?

    healthguyfsu in reply to Paul. | June 27, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    It’s not gifts for actual favors.

    The “I felt pressured” crap is hearsay and drummed up by a group of liberals to demonize a conservative governor…there was no threat made.

    It was a stupid move that he should have thought better about, but how far do you go with this “no gifts” mandate? Can’t have Birthdays or Christmas either since they will inevitably get gifts.

    sequester in reply to Paul. | June 27, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    The Court held, that the mere act of receiving gifts while in Office is not Honest Services Fraud or a violation of the Hobbs Act. To be convicted, the receiver of a gift must undertake an “official act” in return for the “gift”.

    The Court just said to day that the mere receipt of gifts while in public office is not itself a crime.

How is there a federal bribery statute, if he is a state official? Was it across state lines or something?

    sequester in reply to mzk. | June 27, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    It is called the Hobbs Act. It has been around since 1946. Any robbery or extortion with an nexus to interstate commerce, no matter how tenuous, can be prosecuted under the Act.

JimMtnViewCaUSA | June 27, 2016 at 4:47 pm

It’s a good thing the current VA Gov is morally unblemished! Oh. Wait.

One major goal of this legal manouver was to get Hillary shill and bagman, McCauliff as governor of Virginia, so: success!