Bob McDonnell escapes conviction: Did the Supreme Court just legalize bribery?

Harry Morris, Contributing Writer

Bob McDonnell may be $10 million in debt to his lawyers, but he and his wife no longer have to spend over a year in prison. The former Virginia governor has the Supreme Court to thank for his freedom. McDonnell was found guilty of public corruption charges back in September 2014, and he and his lawyers immediately appealed the case. He was sentenced to spend two years in prison, but he has been out on bail during the appeals process. The appeal was sent to the Supreme Court, and the unanimous opinion on the case was released on June 27. In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court vacated the conviction.

To some, it may seem like the Supreme Court legalized bribery. There is overwhelming evidence that McDonnell received gifts worth over $175,000 from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams. McDonnell even payed back the gifts in an effort to right the wrong. Williams and McDonnell had lunches together, so there was potentially some bias towards Star Scientific, such as events that McDonnell set up and attended for Williams. So why was this not bribery?

For the above actions to be considered bribery, it had to be during an “official act” by McDonnell. The Supreme Court voted to tighten the definition of an “official act” by saying it does not include setting up events for constituents or other meetings. Essentially, it is now harder to charge a public official with bribery.

Whether this is an inherently good or bad thing, I do not know. I do, however, think it is the right move for the Supreme Court to make because it makes bribery cases more consistent with the rest of the judicial system. The idea is that it is better to let a guilty man go free than it is to send an innocent man to jail. Considering the current state of jails in America, I would have to agree. It will be harder to charge public officials with bribery, and it means that some unethical activities are no longer illegal, but sending a man to jail for a crime he did not do is a crime within itself.

 

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