Thursday, March 29, 2012

One conviction (of eleven) vacated for improper venue

US v. Jefferson:   This appeal stems from a highly-publicized corruption case involving a former United States House member from Louisiana, William J. Jefferson, who engaged in "an ongoing course of illicit and repugnant conduct - conduct for which he was compensated considerably by those on whose behalf he was acting." The facts of the case below are described in great detail in this opinion, and can be located elsewhere on the Web; briefly, Jefferson received 11 convictions and the longest sentence ever given to a congressman for bribery or any other crime.

Important for this appeal is the definition of the term "official act," and venue for the honest services wire fraud offense. The Fourth Circuit discusses what constitutes an "official act" at great length, and for anyone representing a public official, this discussion may be useful. More relevant may be the discussion of venue for an honest services wire fraud offense, in which the Fourth Circuit determined the venue was improper and vacated this conviction.

Here, there is no specific venue provision in the statutes at stake, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1346, so venue lies where the essential conduct elements took place. Jefferson contended that venue did not lie in the Eastern District of Virginia because the phone call underlying this count was neither begun nor completed in that district. The Fourth Circuit reviewed the essential elements of the honest services wire fraud offense and determined that the misuse of mail or wire is the actus reus punishable by federal law. Finding itself in agreement with the 2nd and 9th Circuits, the Fourth Circuit determined that venue is established in those locations where the wire transfer either originated or was received, so it did not lie in Virginia here. It could lie in Kentucky, though, and the Fourth Circuit pointed out that as the location where the call was received, and where this charge could be properly brought.

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