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Court drops multiple convictions for bad jury instructions

In a federal criminal trial the jury decides if there is enough evidence to support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The role of the judge is to decide what legal standards to apply and then instruct the jury on these principles, what finding will need to be made to arrive at a finding of guilty, the definition of the crime and the concept of reasonable doubt. Incorrect jury instructions can result in a guilty verdict for a federal crime being thrown out.

In a recent decision by a federal appellate court, the court threw out the conviction of a Southern California politician on more than two-dozen federal charges for corruption. The former South Gate treasurer was convicted of federal crimes in 2006 for extracting nearly $2 million in bribes from contractors while in public office. Following the federal case, the former treasurer sentenced to a term of 10 years in federal prison for the federal crimes.

Just recently the court of appeals found that the jurors in the case received incorrect jury instructions from the lower court judge. According to the court, jurors were told that the defendant could be found guilty of defrauding the public for failing to disclose financial conflicts. In a positive development for the defendant, the court held that this was an incorrect instruction and ordered the trial court to reconsider the case based on this ruling.

While the outcome of the lower court's decision for the particular federal offenses in the case is yet to be decided, the new ruling could have a significant effect on the defendant's prison sentence. As mentioned above, the ruling resulted in more than two-dozen of the charges being thrown out. The court of appeals, however, did keep the bribery conviction in place. Nevertheless, the ruling is certainly a positive development for the former treasurer.

Source: KUSI, "Court tosses SoCal treasurer's corruption charges," April 15, 2013

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