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Will Siegelman Convictions Collapse Under A Shifting Legal Landscape?

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opednews.com Headlined to H3 1/20/11

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Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions possibly have altered the foundation upon which convictions in the Don Siegelman case were built, according to statements from appellate judges at a hearing yesterday in Jacksonville, Florida.

Three judges from the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals appeared ready to see the convictions of Siegelman and codefendant Richard Scrushy in a new light, according to a report from John Schwartz at The New York Times.  One of the judges called the convictions "problematic" in light of new developments at the nation's highest court.

Attorneys for Siegelman, the former Democratic governor of Alabama, and Scrushy, the former CEO of HealthSouth, argued for a reversal of the convictions or, at the least, a new trial. One of the judges appeared to agree with them. Reports Schwartz:

Judge J. L. Edmondson asked if the jurors in the original trial had been given alternate ways to convict Mr. Siegelman and Mr. Scrushy, and suggested that if some of those grounds for conviction had been invalidated, "that's problematic." Judge Edmondson asked if "there should at least be a new trial." It is not clear when the panel will issue an opinion in the case.

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Joining Edmondson on the panel were Judge James C. Hill and Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat. All three are Republican appointees.

Much of yesterday's hearing focused on two recent Supreme Court cases--Skilling v. United States and Citizens United v. FEC. The Skilling ruling, which involved a narrowing of the federal statute on honest-services fraud, might be most critical to the Siegelman appeal.

In fact, Judge Edmondson probably made his "problematic" statement because jurors in the Siegelman case received instructions on an honest-services law that now has been altered. That raises constitutional issues, as explained in an important 1957 Supreme Court case styled Yates v. United States, 354 U.S. 298.

If Siegelman and Scrushy receive justice for what appears to be a political prosecution from the George W. Bush era, the Yates case probably will be key. Here is how we explained Yates' connections to the Siegelman case in an earlier post:

The issues remaining against Siegelman involve bribery and obstruction of justice. So how could last week's Supreme-Court ruling on honest-services fraud--involving former Enron executive Jeffrey Skilling and former media magnate Conrad Black--help Siegelman?

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Well, that's where the Yates case enters the picture. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg cited the case in her majority opinion last week. And here is the key general finding in Yates:

Constitutional error occurs when a jury is instructed on alternative theories of guilt and returns a general verdict that may rest on a legally invalid theory.

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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
 

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