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Ninth Circuit overturns corruption conviction of Alaska lawmaker

The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [officials website] on Friday overturned [opinion, PDF] the corruption conviction of Vic Kohring, a former Republican member of the Alaska State Legislature [official website]. Kohring was caught on tape accepting cash from Bill Allen, an executive for Alaskan oil services and engineering company VECO Corp. [official website]. The court held that Kohring was unfairly denied access to evidence which would have helped his defense, including information which casts doubt on Allen's credibility:

[E]vidence of Allen's sexual misconduct with a minor would have shed light on the magnitude of Allen's incentive to cooperate with authorities and would have revealed that he had much more at stake than was already known to the jury. Beyond facing serious criminal charges, the newly-disclosed information shows Allen was very distressed at the prospect of his alleged sexual misconduct becoming public ... The newly-disclosed information also illustrates Allen's difficulty with remembering key facts, as well as Allen's and Smith's differing (and sometimes changing) recollections as to how much money they paid Kohring. Setting aside for a moment the question of the information's admissibility, the information is exculpatory and has impeachment value.
The court found that Kohring's Sixth Amendment [text] Confrontation Clause rights were violated, ruling that knowledge of Allen's sexual misconduct, as well as the newly-revealed information about Allen's memory regarding the financial exchange, would have helped Kohring challenge his credibility as a witness and allow the jury to more fairly evaluate how heavily it would weight his testimony.

Kohring was convicted [NYT report] in November 2007 and sentenced to 42 months in federal prison on extortion, bribery and conspiracy charges, based largely on FBI video surveillance [ADN video archive] evidence. But in 2009, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] asked the court to remand the case of two convicted Alaska lawmakers [press release], including Kohring, to district court and to release the prisoners on their own recognizance, admitting that DOJ prosecutors did not disclose all necessary information [JURIST report]. Several other Alaska lawmakers, as well as VECO's CEO Bill Allen and Vice President Rick Smith, prominent lawyer Jim Clark, and several high profile lobbyists, were also indicted, convicted, or pleaded guilty [ADN backgrounder] to corruption-related charges. In April 2009, the DOJ dropped the charges against former Alaska senator Ted Stevens [US Congress backgrounder] when similar errors were discovered [JURIST report].

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