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Partial Reversal for Blagojevich

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Rod Blagojevich, former governor of the state where about as many former governors are felons as not, won a partial reversal from the Seventh Circuit today.  From United States v. Blagojevich, USCA 7, No. 11-3853:

Blagojevich now asks us to hold that the evidence is insufficient to convict him on any count. The argument is frivolous. The evidence, much of it from Blagojevich's own mouth, is overwhelming. To the extent there are factual disputes, the jury was entitled to credit the prosecution's evidence and to find that Blagojevich acted with the knowledge required for conviction.

But a problem in the way the instructions told the jury to consider the evidence requires us to vacate the convictions on counts that concern Blagojevich's proposal to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate in exchange for an appointment to the Cabinet. A jury could have found that Blagojevich asked the President‑elect for a private‑sector job, or for funds that he could control, but the instructions permitted the jury to convict even if it found that his only request of Sen. Obama was for a position in the Cabinet. The instructions treated all proposals alike. We conclude, however, that they are legally different: a proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of logrolling, is fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment.

Because the instructions do not enable us to be sure that the jury found that Blagojevich offered to trade the appointment for a private salary after leaving the Governorship, these convictions cannot stand. Compare Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957), and United States v. Rivera Borrero, 771 F.3d 973 (7th Cir. 2014), with Griffin v. United States, 502 U.S. 46 (1991). (Perhaps because the jury deadlocked at the first trial, the United States does not seriously contend that any error was harmless; a one‑line statement in the brief differs from an argument. Cf. Hedgpeth v. Pulido, 555 U.S. 57, 60-62 (2008) (an error of this kind is not "structural").)

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Blake's attempt to get Trib editorialists fired by threatening the business interests of the parent company should have gotten him a life sentence. Blago is a deeply corrupt thug. He should count himself extraordinarily lucky.

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