'McDonnell' and the Future of Political Corruption Cases
On Sept. 8, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped all charges against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen. The government's decision marked a stunning end to a case that grabbed headlines for years. The immediate media reaction was that the Supreme Court's July decision in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), which, as discussed below, clarified the jury instructions required to prove bribery, and the prosecutors' decision not to retry the defendants, would open the floodgates to a wave of illicit money flowing into the pockets of corrupt politicians.
However, the reality is probably more nuanced than that. Just because McDonnell and his wife were able to escape conviction does not mean that corrupt politicians are immune from prosecution for bribery. While the holding in McDonnell may appear as if it adds an additional burden on prosecutions for bribery, the decision actually just clarifies the application of the existing bribery law and reigns in aggressive proprosecution jury instructions. Any additional burden that the decision presents is not one that will likely slow prosecutors down in their efforts to weed out political corruption. In fact, because the prosecution chose not to retry the McDonnells, the public does not know if they would have been convicted a second time.
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