Criminal Justice

US Plans to Revise Blago Charges to Avoid ‘Honest Services’ Problem

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Prosecutors plan to revise charges against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to avoid any delays that could be caused by an adverse Supreme Court ruling on honest services fraud.

The court filing says the new charges will still focus on the same alleged misconduct, but the new charges will avoid the honest-services problem, according to the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. Currently, 11 out of 19 counts against Blagojevich concern theft of honest services, according to WGN-TV.

Oral arguments are being held today in two of three cases challenging the law that makes it a crime to “deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,” according to the National Law Journal and the New York Times.

One of the people challenging the law today is Conrad Black, convicted of defrauding his media company, Hollinger International. He claims he meant no economic harm to his company and he can’t be prosecuted under the law. The other challenger is former Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch, who says he did not violate state law and the U.S. prosecution violates federalism principles.

In the third case, scheduled for later argument, former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling claims the law is unconstitutionally vague.

According to the NLJ, the three cases are being heard amid an increasing focus on overcriminalization, “a concern that vague federal laws like the honest-services statute are being used as catchalls to criminalize behavior that may be distasteful or unethical, but not illegal.”

The Tribune points out that prosecutors have alleged Blagojevich sought something for himself—such as a government job—in exchange for his appointment to fill the Senate seat that had been held by Barack Obama.

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