In U.S. v. Walker, No. 05-16756 (July 6, 2007), the Court affirmed convictions and sentences arising out of the prosecution of a Georgia state legislator for mail fraud.
The Court rejected the argument that the district court abused its discretion when, after the defendant exercised his peremptory challenges to eliminate four white male jurors from the venire, it granted the government’s Batson challenge, and reinstated the jurors to the jury pool. Though "somewhat troubled" by the district court’s finding that the defendant’s rationale for the strikes were "pretextual," in view of its different treatment of similarly-rationalized strikes, the court deferred to the district court’s finding of lack of genuineness, and likelihood of purposeful discrimination. The Court also deferred to the district court’s reinstatement remedy, noting the broad discretion as to the choice of remedy, and the "defensible approach" the district court took here.
The Court rejected a sufficiency of the evidence challenge to the mail fraud convictions. The Court noted that the honest services mail fraud statute is "extremely broad." Here, the evidence showed a scheme by Walker to enrich himself by using his legislative position as a bargaining tool to secure additional business for one of the businesses he owned. Walker’s own communications showed his belief that he was entitled to additional business in exchange for legislative assistance (even though, in reality, he influenced no actual legislation).
The Court also rejected Walker’s federalism arguments that a prosecution predicated on a non-criminal ethics provision – which required disclosure of business relationships - is unconstitutional, since only the state is entitled to criminalize such conduct. The Court noted that the jury was specifically instructed not to ground its verdict on state law. The jury’s verdict could have been unrelated to any state ethics requirement, but based only on a federal honest services mail fraud violation.
Turning to sentencing, the Court rejected a double counting challenge based on cumulative enhancements for abuse of trust and for a misrepresentation on behalf of a charity. The Court found that these enhancements involved different harms, to the charity, and to the charity’s donors. The Court also affirmed the supervisory role enhancement, albeit on different grounds than those stated by the district court.