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Honest-Services Mail Fraud Convictions Vacated

By FindLaw Staff | Last updated on

In Black v. US, No. 08-876, the Court vacated the Seventh Circuit's affirmance of defendants' (including Conrad Black) honest-services mail fraud convictions, holding that 1) the honest-services component of the federal mail-fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. section 1346, criminalized only schemes to defraud that involved bribes or kickbacks, and that holding rendered the honest-services instructions given in this case incorrect; and 2) by properly objecting to the honest-services jury instructions at trial, defendants secured their right to challenge those instructions on appeal, and they did not forfeit that right by declining to acquiesce in the government-proposed special-verdict forms.

As the Court wrote:  "In Skilling v. United States, decided today, ante, p. __,we vacated a conviction because the indictment rested, in part, on an improper construction of the "honest services" component of the federal ban on mail fraud, 18 U. S. C.§§1341, 1346. A similar infirmity is present in this case. Here, too, the Government and trial court advanced an interpretation of §1346 rejected by the Court's opinion in Skilling. Nevertheless, the Government urges, the convictions of the defendants below, petitioners here, should be affirmed for an independent reason. At trial, the Government pursued alternative theories: (1) money-or-property fraud; and (2) honest-services fraud. To pinpoint whether the jury based its verdict on money-or-property fraud, or honest-services fraud, or both, the Government proposed special interrogatories to accompany the verdict. The defendants resisted, preferring an unelaborated general verdict, and the Government ultimately acquiesced in that standard form of submission."

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