Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nelson: Honest services statute not void-for-vagueness

In U.S. v. Nelson, No. 12-11066 (March 13, 2013) (2-1), the Court rejected a void-for vagueness challenge to the constitutionality of the honest-services mail fraud statute, and affirmed convictions of mail fraud and bribery of a former member of the Board of the Jacksonville, FL Port Authority.

The Court noted that although Nelson was not paid for his work as a JaxPort board member, he was indisputably a “public official.” He agreed to represent the interests of a private firm that had business with JaxPort in exchange for monthly payments routed through a middleman. This was a “classic” bribery and kickback scenario. Nelson could not complain about vagueness.

The Court also rejected Nelson’s challenge to jury instructions, finding that his counsel agreed to the wording of one instruction and therefore waived the issue, and that the other properly directed the jury to look to Nelson’s state of mind.

The Court also rejected the argument that the district erred, under Fed. R. Evid. 403, in admitting testimony that one year prior to the charged bribery, Nelson met with JaxPort’s CFO and asked that a contractor be terminated and noted that a rival contractor was “ready to go.” The Court noted that the evidence corroborated parts of the government’s case.