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Supreme Court of the United States to ConsiderTwenty Year Old Political Corruption Law

Posted On: March 23, 2010 by Marc Neff

The Honest Services Fraud statute, a tool used by prosecutors in political corruption cases over the past twenty years, may soon be voided or modified by the Supreme Court of the United States due to vagueness and over breadth. The Honest Services Fraud doctrine presumes that a public official owes a duty of honest service to the public who he or she represents. When that public service official breaches that duty by concealing a financial interest, and using the mail, telephone or email to do so, that politician can be prosecuted under the Honest Fraud Services statute, amongst other charges. In the past, some states have used the law to prosecute legislators who accept gifts or jobs from lobbyists who receive public funding. Others have been prosecuted under the doctrine for non-disclosure of certain financial information on financial statements, where it was later found that the official voted against legislation which would have affected the non-disclosed income. Proving a violation of the Honest Services Fraud statute is much easier than other violations, such as bribery.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on three cases within the next few months, all of which involve the Honest Services Fraud doctrine. Lawyers for the accused have chosen to attack the law itself, citing its vagueness as grounds that the law is unconstitutional. In order for a law to be valid, the law must be written with specificity, so that those required to obey the law know exactly who the law affects and what actions are prohibited. Lawyers argue that public officials for whom the doctrine applies do not understand what actions are, and are not, covered by the law. One lawmaker has been prosecuted for merely accepting free lodging from lobbyists. Others have accepted jobs or have been accused of using their influence to help relatives and friends do the same.

Crimes such as bribery, extortion, and other corruption related violations are legislated specifically; indicating who the law applies to and what elements of the crime must be proven to convict a violator. The Honest Services Fraud doctrine is more of a catchall law, which can be used by prosecutors to more easily gain a conviction or convict a public official where the evidence against said official is not sufficient to sustain conviction for other violations. Many of the officials currently serving time or convicted in the past under the statute were also convicted of more specific crimes such as bribery. However, to the extent that politicians have been convicted solely under the Honest Services Fraud doctrine, a Supreme Court decision to void the law would potentially overturn those convictions.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has been quoted as saying a political official could potentially be prosecuted under the Honest Services Fraud doctrine for dropping his name at a restaurant to get a table on a Saturday night. As many judicial officials share in his position, it is expected that the law is either limited by the Supreme Court as to what behaviors are considered illegal, or the law declared unconstitutional as is and Congress be instructed to rewrite new, more specific legislation.

The Law Offices of Marc Neff have over 20-years of experience successfully defending clients charged with fraud and related offenses. If you are under investigation for fraud, or have been charged with a criminal offense, contact our offices immediately. There are defenses available to you, and Law Offices of Marc Neff can assist in developing a successful defense. You may schedule a confidential consultation by calling (215) 563-9800 or by email, marc@nefflawoffices.com

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Posted in: Federal White Collar Crime