Fourth Circuit dismisses challenge to bribery charges against congressman

[JURIST] A panel for the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] on Wednesday dismissed [opinion, PDF] an appeal by Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA) [official profile; JURIST news archive] seeking to have bribery charges against him dropped. Jefferson argued that the grand jury indictment against him was based on evidence protected by the US Constitution's Speech or Debate Clause [text; backgrounder], which makes certain information relating to legislative action privileged. Jefferson had argued that testimony by former members of his staff had been based on his legislative action, which is prohibited, but the court found that references to legislative action in the testimony were incidental, and not the basis for the indictment against him. Upholding a lower court decision [JURIST report], the panel quoted the US Supreme Court's 1972 ruling in United States v. Brewster on the scope of the clause's protection:

[I]t is well settled that the government may not introduce evidence of a Member’s legislative acts to prove an element of a criminal charge. But the government may rely on acts "casually or incidentally related to legislative affairs but not part of the legislative process itself." Put simply, the Speech or Debate Clause is not a license to commit crime.
AP has more.

In March, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it planned to pursue [JURIST report] the case against Jefferson despite an appeals court ruling [text, PDF; JURIST report] that other evidence confiscated from his office during an FBI raid was protected by the Speech and Debate Clause. In June, Jefferson pleaded not guilty to charges [JURIST reports] under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act [DOJ materials], including bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice. Jefferson is accused of accepting approximately $500,000 in bribes from numerous companies in the US and Africa and faces a maximum sentence of 235 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. In January 2007, former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer pleaded guilty [DOJ press release] to bribery charges for his role in the scheme.

 

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