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SCOTUS Tells Seventh Cir. to Reconsider Gov. George Ryan's Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 30, 2012 4:02 PM

Is there a glimmer of hope for disgraced Illinois Governor George Ryan?

The former governor, who is serving time in federal prison for corruption charges, could benefit from the Supreme Court's Wood v. Milyard decision. Monday, the Supreme Court told the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider Ryan's honest services fraud conviction in light of the April 24 opinion.

Ryan was convicted of racketeering, mail fraud, tax evasion, and lying to the FBI in 2006. The mail-fraud charge alleged that Ryan defrauded Illinois of its intangible right to his honest services by covertly acting in the interests of some private supporters rather than as a fiduciary for the state's citizens. Ryan challenged the conviction, claiming that the jury instructions were defective because they permitted the jury to convict him on an honest-services theory without finding a bribe or a kickback.

The bribe or kickback element was critical in former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling's Supreme Court appeal. Skilling was convicted of conspiracy, securities fraud, making false representations to auditors, and insider trading associated with the Enron collapse. In 2010, the Supreme Court invalidated one of the grounds of Skilling's conspiracy charge - honest-services fraud - holding that the honest services statue applies only in cases involving bribery and kickbacks. Other applications, according to the Nine, are too vague to be constitutional.

Last year, Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, writing for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, noted that there was sufficient evidence of bribery and kickbacks in Ryan's case. "Ryan observes that the jury was not required to determine whether ... payments [he received] were bribes or kickbacks. True enough; the question under the instructions ... was whether Ryan had received a secret financial benefit. But there is no doubt that a properly instructed jury could have deemed the payments bribes or kickbacks... The district court's opinion canvasses the evidence and demonstrates why a reasonable jury could find that Ryan sold his offices to the high bidders."

This week, the Supreme Court remanded Ryan's case to the Seventh Circuit based on last week's Wood decision. (Wood addressed whether appellate courts have the authority to raise a forfeited timeliness defense sua sponte.)

During George Ryan's appeal, government prosecutors said that they didn't think Ryan had defaulted on his chance to bring up the Supreme Court's honest services decision, but the appellate court disregarded the prosecutors' argument reports the Huffington Post. In light of Wood, the justices remanded the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for further examination, guided by the Court's Wood holding.

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