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    • News Release

    News Release ~ 06/27/2016

    Supreme Court Rejects Government’s Expansive Interpretation of “Official Act” Under Federal Bribery and Honest-Services Fraud Statutes; Vacates and Remands in Case of Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell -- Washington, DC (June 27, 2016) – In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court today unanimously rejected the government’s expansive interpretation of what constitutes an impermissible "official act" under the federal bribery statute, the Hobbs Act, and the federal honest-services statute.

    • Brief

    United States v. Christopher Wright

    Wright and his co-defendants were indicted and tried on both conflict of interest and bribery theories of honest services fraud. The district and circuit courts both denied bail pending appeal while Skilling was pending. After Skilling the parties renewed the motion, the government did not object, and the Third Circuit ordered bail pending appeal. On appeal, the defense pursued both a judgment of acquittal and a new trial. Among other arguments, the government asserted that any errors with regard to honest services fraud should not disrupt the conviction on the traditional mail fraud count.

    Argument: On January 4, 2012, the Third Circuit vacated all counts of conviction and remanded for a new trial.  The court reasoned that all the honest services counts must be vacated even though they included a seemingly valid post-Skilling theory, because they were not limited to that theory.  The court further reasoned that the traditional mail fraud count must also be vacated due to the prejudicial spillover from the honest services fraud counts.  Notably, the court treated the Skilling issue as preserved, and thus applied harmless error rather than plain error review, even though the objections in the district court did not anticipate the precise contours of Skilling.  

    The rebuttal argument, made by lead attorney and NACDL Member Lisa Mathewson, was particularly effective at delineating the honest services fraud arguments.  The full oral argument audio can be accessed on the Third Circuit's website.

    In October 2014, the Third Circuit heard the defendants' argument that the government should be precluded from arguing the bribery theory of honest services fraud because the jury had already decided on that issue during the initial trial. The court's decision has yet to be released.

    • Brief

    United States v. Thomas Spellissy, et al.

    Spellissy was convicted on five counts, including one count of conspiracy to commit bribery, wire fraud and honest-services fraud. Of the other counts, the District Court either granted a post-trial motion for judgment of acquitted (bribery) or motion for a new trial (substantive wire fraud offenses). Spellissy exhausted his direct appellate rights, as well as, the collateral remedies provided by 28 U.S.C. §2255. He also completed his supervised release and is not currently serving any portion of his sentence.

    Argument: In light of the Skilling decision, Spellissy petitioned for a writ of error coram nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a), the All Writs Act, on this remaining conspiracy count. On December 29, 2010, the Court denied Spellissy's petition. Spellissy is appealing the denial to the 11th Circuit.

    On August 16, 2011, the 11th Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to deny Spellissy's petition for a writ of error coram nobis pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. 1651(a).  The court determined that Spellissy's conviction was not based on the "conflict of interest" or "self-dealing" theories of honest services fraud since the jury was instructed on both bribery and wire fraud.  Also, even if an error occurred, it was harmless and didn't have a "substantial and injurious effect" on the jury's verdict.  

    On March 22, 2013, the 11th Circuit affirmed the decision from the Middle District of Florida that the court did not err when it denied Spellissy's petition for writ of error coram nobis.  Spellissy failed to demonstrate that the district court abused its discretion.