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The Circuit Affirms Public Corruption Conviction, Rejecting A Slew Of Arguments And Narrowing The Reach Of Its Prior Decisions On Witness Tampering

In a lengthy opinion in United States v. Sampson on August 6, 2018, the Second Circuit (Cabranes, Livingston, Carney) affirmed the conviction of former New York State Senator John Sampson for obstruction of justice and false statements.  Sampson challenged his conviction at trial on a variety of different grounds.  The strongest possible basis for reversal was based on two prior decisions of the Second Circuit that limited the reach of Section 1503(a), one of the statutes that prohibits obstruction of justice.  In order for the Court to affirm, it needed to limit the apparent reach of these decisions, coming right up to the line that prohibits one panel of the Second Circuit from revisiting a prior panel decision without an en banc ruling by the Court.  In the end, the Court rejected this claim and the many other claims presented by Sampson, leaving both his conviction and sentence in place.

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Courts Reinstates Embezzlement Charges Dismissed as Untimely, Holding that Dismissal was Based on a Premature Assessment of the Government’s Evidence

In United States v. Sampson, decided August 6, 2018, the Court (Cabranes, Livingston, Carney, C.J.J.) reversed the district court’s dismissal of embezzlement charges levied against former New York State Senator John Sampson.  In a companion decision issued the same day, which we summarize in a separate post, the Court affirmed Sampson’s conviction on obstruction and false statement charges that proceeded to trial.

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Skelos Vacated: For The Second Time This Year, Conviction Of Leading New York State Legislator Is Undone Due To McDonnell

The Second Circuit (Winter, Raggi, Hellerstein by designation) today vacated by summary order the convictions of former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam Skelos.  Dean and Adam Skelos were convicted of Hobbs Act conspiracy and substantive offenses, honest services wire fraud conspiracy, and federal program bribery, after a jury trial in which the government presented evidence that the elder Skelos had taken official actions to benefit certain companies in exchange for payments to his son.  Much like the conviction of his fellow senior state legislator, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the conviction was reversed in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), which narrowed the definition of an “official act.”  As the Court rejected the defense contention that insufficient evidence supported the convictions, both Skelos and his son will be retried by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.  Like the Silver reversal, this ruling reflects the ways in which the McDonnell decision has complicated that office’s investigation and prosecution of public corruption in New York state government.

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Second Circuit Affirms Honest Services Fraud Conviction Amidst Doubt About The Future Viability Of Honest Services Fraud

Does the act of paying money to a party official to allow a candidate merely to run for public office constitute bribery?  And does a party official owe a “fiduciary duty” to his party to open its ticket to candidates from opposing parties only sparingly, such that an exchange of money for a place on the party ticket supports a conviction under the honest services fraud statute (18 U.S.C. § 1346)?

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