Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Siegelman: Affirming Most Convictions of Former Alabama Governor

In U.S. v. Siegelman, No. 09-13163 (May 10, 2011), on remand from the Supreme Court, the Court, in a 65-page opinion, affirmed some convictions and reversed others, in a case involving bribery and fraud charges against the former Governor of Alabama.

The Court affirmed convictions for violating 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B), the federal bribery statute. The Court rejected the argument that the jury should have been instructed that bribery only occurs when payments are made in exchange for an “express” quid pro quo agreement. The Court found that this instruction would allow defendants to escape bribery liability by “knowing winks and nods.”

Turning to the honest services fraud convictions, the Court found that these convictions were unaffected by the Supreme Court recent decision in Skilling requiring a quid pro quo, because the offenses already charged a quid pro quo, and the jury were so instructed.

The Court found insufficient evidence to support Siegelman’s conviction of self-dealing in connection with the conduct of co-defendant Scrushy on an Alabama Board. The Court found that Siegelman had no awareness of Scrushy’s self-dealing. The Court also found insufficient evidence to support Scrushy’s self-dealing convictions. Post-Skilling, these convictions required a showing that Scrushy bribed someone, but there was insufficient evidence of such a bribe.

The Court affirmed a conviction of Siegelman for obstruction of justice, noting evidence showing that he tried to cover-up his receipt moneys through a false motorcycle transaction. The Court noted the jury’s split verdict on two obstruction counts, indicating that the jurors had carefully drawn inferences from circumstantial evidence.

The Court agreed with the district court’s finding that while the jury was exposed to extrinsic evidence, this exposure was harmless.

The Court rejected the argument that there were premature jury deliberations, as evidenced by an exchange of emails among jurors. The Court noted that Fed. R. Evid. 606(b) precludes inquiry of an individual juror into the validity of a verdict. Thus, although the emails would have been juror misconduct, the trial court was precluded from directly inquiring by interrogating jurors. In view of the length of deliberations, and the split verdict, the Court found no reversible error.

Finally, the Court found no error in the district court’s upward sentencing departure based on the loss of confidence suffered by the people of the state of Alabama in the integrity of its elected officials.