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Siegelman Conviction Vacated by Supreme Court

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The Supreme Court has just handed down an order vacating the conviction of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman for honest-services fraud and referring the case for review by the Eleventh Circuit in light of its ruling in Skilling v. United States. (PDF) This decision does not necessarily mark the end of Siegelman’s ordeal. The Supreme Court split on the constitutionality of the honest-services fraud statute under which Siegelman was convicted, on evidence subsequently revealed to have been improperly coerced. Three justices felt the entire statute was unconstitutional and should fall. The remaining six attempted to salvage something from it but also expressed concern about the way the Justice Department was interpreting and applying the statute, and insisted that it be considerably narrowed. With this decision, the ball is back in the Justice Department’s court. It should take full measure of the Skilling decision and abandon the case against Siegelman, which is probably the single most abusive use of the honest-services fraud statute yet—surely more abusive than that of the Skilling case itself. But we’re dealing with a Justice Department that never admits a lapse in judgment, much less abuse of prosecutorial discretion—both of which were in ready supply in this highest profile political prosecution in recent American history. So it will be up to the Eleventh Circuit to apply the Skilling ruling, and then perhaps the case will make a return trip to the High Court if it reinstates any aspect of the Siegelman conviction.

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