SCOTUS Rules on Conrad Black

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled on the Conrad Black case in a decision released today.

Black had argued that the “right to honest services” was stretched to fit the crimes and was originally intended for public servants. They relied on Yates v. United States in seeking the verdict to be set aside when it is impossible to tell what ground a jury was selected when there are several grounds for conviction. The government’s positions was that the jury were given proper instruction regarding honest services fraud and the conviction should stand. The Court of Appeal previously held that Black forfeited objections to the instruction by opposing special-verdict forms proposed by the government.

The SCOTUS ruling sets aside the decision, leaving further resolution to a lower appeal court.

Skilling v. United States, a companion ruling also released today regarding Enron, was cited in the Black case as the basis for holding the honest-services instructions as incorrect. The criminalization referred to in §1346 is intended for defrauding schemes involving bribes or kickbacks,

Because the indictment alleged three objects of the conspiracy—honest-services wire fraud, money-or-property wire fraud, and securities fraud—Skilling’s conviction is flawed. See Yates v. United States, 354 U. S. 298. This determination, however, does not necessarily require reversal of the conspiracy conviction, for errors of the Yates variety are subject to harmless-error analysis. The Court leaves the parties’ dispute about whether the error here was harmless for resolution on remand, along with the question whether reversal on the conspiracy count would touch any of Skilling’s other convictions.

A similar conclusion was reached today in Black et al. v. United States,

As in Skilling, the Court expresses no opinion on whether the honest-services instructional error was ultimately harmless, but leaves that matter for consideration on remand.

The SCOTUSWiki provides transcripts of the proceedings, briefs and documents used, and an overview of the arguments presented.

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