The U.S Supreme Court on Monday overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell by unanimous decision to vacate corruption charges. Both McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in January 2014 after McDonnell had left office. McDonnell and his wife were both found guilty of most of the federal charges against them.
McDonnell had been indicted on federal corruption charges for receiving improper gifts and loans from Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Williams had been chief executive of nutritional supplement maker Star Scientific and had been accused of giving an estimated $ 200,000 in exchange for favors, Inside Business reports.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer sentenced McDonnell to two years in prison and Maureen McDonnell to a year in jail. The couple had both been out of jail pending the outcome of their appeals, according to the Richmond Times.
Justices showed concerned that federal corruption laws might be unconstitutional. They also questioned if the jury was given too broad of sufficient evidence and if it had warranted the convictions. The gifts were not illegal under Virginia law. According to McDonnell’s attorney Noel J. Francisco, none of those constituted the “official actions” necessary to trigger the bribery laws, according to the Washington Post.
The McDonnell’s maintained that Williams was a close family friend. Jonnie R. Williams Sr. claimed the relationship between himself and the McDonnells was business.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that but our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”
“A more limited interpretation of the term ‘official act’ leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, while comporting with the text of the statute and the precedent of this Court,” Roberts wrote.
Roberts continued (via the Supreme Court), “But conscientious public officials arrange meetings for constituents, contact other officials on their behalf, and include them in events all the time. The basic compact underlying representative government assumes that public officials will hear from their constituents and act appropriately on their concerns — whether it is the union official worried about a plant closing or the homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore power to their neighborhood after a storm. The Government’s position could cast a pall of potential prosecution over these relationships if the union had given a campaign contribution in the past or the homeowners invited the official to join them on their annual outing to the ballgame. Officials might wonder whether they could respond to even the most commonplace requests for assistance, and citizens with legitimate concerns might shrink from participating in democratic discourse.”
Federal prosecutors could attempt to retry McDonnell based on the new standards on federal corruption charges. The Justice Department declined to comment on that possibility, via the Washington Post.
In a statement made by Bob McDonnell, he thanked the justices for overturning his conviction. McDonnell said he has not and would not “betray the sacred trust” of the Virginia people, reported WDBJ.
Robert McDonnell, a Republican, was elected the 71st Governor of Virginia and served in office from 2010 to 2014. McDonnell was also a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve and also served as the attorney general of Virginia from 2006 to 2009.
With his conviction overturned, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife can move on and enjoy their lives.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]