By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A shorter leash for federal prosecutors

In my latest for the Guardian, I salute the U.S. Supreme Court for virtually overturning the federal “honest services” law, beloved of prosecutors who are more interested in targeting an individual than in solving a crime.

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  1. Mike Stucka

    Soooo basically what you’re arguing is an anti-corruption law was causing a kind of corruption? Genius!

  2. Neil Sagan

    I salute the U.S. Supreme Court for virtually overturning the federal “honest services” law, beloved of prosecutors who are more interested in targeting an individual than in solving a crime.

    Argue the law is too broadly written and gives prosecutors too much authority to prosecute and authority to prosecute acts that it should not but don’t argue the motive of prosecutors unless you have direct knowledge of it.

  3. Michael Pahre

    Did I miss something here?

    From what I read, SCOTUS ruled that the honest services law was misapplied for actions of private individuals or corporate officers, but specifically noted that the law was intended to hit at corruption cases for government officials (including elected ones) — and didn’t rule it out for such cases.

    It sounded to me that they narrowed the potential parties to exclude non-governmental ones, but that various elected officials (e.g., DiMasi, Blagoyevich) shouldn’t count their chickens yet…

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Michael: Not sure where you’re getting that. The Skilling decision – the one that does the legal heavy lifting – clearly narrows the honest-services law to cover bribery and kickbacks.

      I have seen nothing that makes a distinction between politicians and others. In fact, two of the successful plaintiffs were business executives and the third was a former elected official.

  4. Mike Stucka

    Michael: I took a quick peek at the Skilling case, and it seems to be pretty clear:
    In proscribing fraudulent deprivations of “the intangible right of honest services,” §1346, Congress intended at least to reach schemes to defraud involving bribes and kickbacks. Construing the honest-services statute to extend beyond that core meaning, we conclude, would encounter a vagueness shoal. We therefore hold that §1346 covers only bribery and kickback schemes.

    You might want to give that another look. I do see a discussion of how the courts expanded the law to include private-sector officials.

  5. LFNeilson

    Where does this leave Black? What was the basis for the obst. of justice conviction? How closely tied was it to the honest services conviction?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @LF: Not very. I believe he was convicted on the obstruction charge of literally of taking documents and destroying them.

  6. Aaron Read

    The honest services law was, depending on your viewpoint, either a blatant power grab by prosecutors…or a misguided attempt to legislate morality.

    I wish more people would focus on the latter here. The public is inundated with examples of world-class scumbags who abuse their money and power to get even more money and power (inevitably at the expense of everyone else) and then use that money and power to walk away scot-free. Or perhaps with a slap on the wrist.

    I always thought the law is supposed to be the *last* refuge for justice. Emphasis on “last”, because law…supposedly…treats all equally, the system is inherently designed to not provide justice.

    The problem is that all other avenues of justice are hopelessly lost. Certainly there is none to be found in our other two branches of government. Rampant, out-of-control capitalism has done a fine job either absorbing or minimizing pretty much everything else. So we turn to the law, which isn’t exactly squeaky-clean itself, and surprise, surprise, it doesn’t work too well.

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