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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Focus on Faulty Jury Instructions, Supreme Court Upholds Ex-Gov. Appeal

Ray of hope for imprisoned ex-Gov. Ryan after high court tells lower court reexamine appeal
The Associated Press - April 30, 2012

CHICAGO, IL — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered a lower court to again look at former Illinois Gov. George Ryan’s bid to overturn his corruption convictions, offering the imprisoned Republican a chance, however slim, at a new trial. The decision marks one of the few significant rulings that have gone in Ryan’s favor since he was convicted of accepting vacations, gifts and cash for steering state business to insiders. When told of the ruling, the 78-year-old former governor sounded pleased, said Jim Thompson, one of Ryan’s attorneys. “He was very gratified ... I could hear it in his voice,” Thompson, himself a former Illinois governor, told The Associated Press. “This is his first legal victory since proceedings against him started more than six years ago.” The high court took issue with how the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reached its decision to reject his appeal — but it stopped well short of overturning Ryan’s convictions. Any new trial, if it happened, would solely focus on several fraud convictions, Thompson said. Gal Pissetzky, a Chicago-based defense attorney unconnected to the Ryan case, said the 7th Circuit is renowned for its reluctance to overturn convictions. He said that may not bode well for Ryan. “It seems like the Supreme Court did open the door ever so slightly for the appeals court decision to be reverse,” he said. “It’s another shot — but a long shot.” Ryan is serving the tail end of a 6 1/2-year sentence in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., on multiple convictions, which in addition to fraud included tax fraud and false statements to the FBI. His successor as governor, Democrat Rod Blagojevich, is also in prison for corruption; he began serving a 14-year term in March. Even if Ryan wins a new trial, Thompson said, prosecutors may not have the stomach for another costly, time-consuming process and could agree to have Ryan resentenced on the convictions not in dispute. That could lead to his release on time served, he said. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago, Randall Samborn, declined to comment on the Supreme Court decision. Both sides must now submit new filings to the 7th Circuit by the end of June, and oral arguments could take place in autumn, Thompson said. Another Ryan attorney, Albert Alschuler, said it would take time for legal issues to play out. Regardless of those legal options, Ryan is due to be released in mid-2013 because of federal rules allowing inmates with good behavior to serve only 80 percent of their sentences. The federal appeals court rejected Ryan’s appeal last year shortly after the death of his wife of 55 years, Lura Lynn Ryan. The former governor was released for several hours to be at his wife’s side before she died, though he wasn’t allowed to attend her funeral. The main legal question at issue is whether Ryan waived any objections during his trial to supposedly faulty jury instructions. In upholding Ryan’s convictions, the appeals court last year concluded that defense attorneys did not make a timely objection to jury instructions about “honest services” laws and, even if they had, Ryan’s conviction would not have been affected. Defense lawyers have long criticized honest services laws as too vague and a last resort of prosecutors in corruption cases that lack the evidence to prove money is changing hands — and the Supreme Court largely agreed in a ruling in 2010. The high-court ruling sharply curtailed “honest services” laws, with the justices saying such laws must be applied to clear instances of bribery or kickbacks. Ryan’s appeal last year was one of several attempts to overturn his convictions based on that ruling. During Ryan’s appeal a year ago, government prosecutors said they did not think Ryan had defaulted on his chance to bring up the Supreme Court’s “honest services” decision. But the appellate judges in Chicago disregarded prosecutors on that point. In a separate case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in April that appellate courts could sometimes ignore prosecutors’ view. In Ryan’s case, however, the high court justices said the 7th Circuit should look at that issue anew.


Supreme Court Upholds Ex-Gov. Ryan Appeal
WLS/ABC News by Paul Meincke - April 30, 2012

CHICAGO, IL -- The U.S. Supreme Court ordered a lower court to reconsider the appeal of former Illinois governor George Ryan. Ryan is serving a six-and-a-half year sentence on corruption charges. He has served four-and-a-half years of that sentence. The decision represents a victory for the former governor, with the potential of shaving off some of his prison time. "I think it's fair to say that he was very happy," said Jim Thompson, Ryan friend and attorney. "He was very grateful to the Supreme Court for giving him this chance. " Ryan's attorneys have argued that the jury instructions in his trial were flawed. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled earlier that Ryan didn't make a timely argument on that subject so the convictions and sentence should stand. But now the Supreme Court says the argument about jury instructions can be made, and the circuit court needs to re-think the issue. "If the 7th Circuit comes to the conclusion that the jury instructions were erroneous, then they're going to have to send it back for a new trial," said Prof. Richard Kling, Kent College of Law. That's one possibility, but many consider it unlikely that Ryan would be retried on a limited number of charges. Furthermore, by the time it might come to trial, Ryan will already have served most, if not all, his sentence. "This isn't going to shorten his sentence very much," said Prof. Leonard Cavise, DePaul College of Law. "Even if they send it back to district court on a couple of those counts, you can't get much done in the next six months or so." Ryan is serving his time at the federal prison camp in Terre Haute. His scheduled releae date from federal custody is Independence Day, 2013. But one thing that could happen more immediately is that his attorney's would ask for an appeal bond, presenting the possibility that Ryan could be released on bond while the appeals court decides what to do next. Thompson said the decision has not yet been made on whether or not to seek an appeal bond. "Some people have done that," he said. "Conrad Black did that. He got the Supreme Court sending his case back to the 7th Circuit and won some and lost some and had to go back." That's the down side, according to Thompson. You might win an appeal bond and get to come home, but then you could lose the appeal and have to return to prison -- when you've technically got 14-months and some days left in your sentence. The appeal bond decision likely won't come until late June when both the Ryan defense team and the government outline their arguments in where the appeal should go.


Anonymous said...

It's all about politics, especially at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anonymous said...

One set of laws and rules for the elite and another for those unable to buy justice. Will the present Illinois governor go to jail for misspending the public's money to benefit supporters?

Anonymous said...

Well, isn't this an interesting decision?

As it is, the US Supreme Court doesn't do what it was set-up to do. Be the court of last resort for the improper, corrupt decisions of the lower courts. Now they seem to be making it clear that justice is only available to the few connected people.

This is just another example of how corrupt the US has become.

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               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
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