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Supreme Court orders appeals court to reconsider Illinois ex-governor Ryan's appeal

The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday ordered [order list, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] to reconsider former Illinois governor George Ryan's appeal in light of Wood v. Milyard [SCOTUS blog backgrounder; JURIST report]. Wood, which was decided just last week, held that federal courts of appeals, like district courts, have the authority—though not the obligation—to raise a forfeited timeliness defense on their own initiative in exceptional cases. Ryan argues that he was convicted under pre-Skilling v. United States [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] jury instructions and therefore he should be released from prison and his convictions for mail fraud and for violations of the Rackteer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) [18 USC § 1961 et seq.] should be thrown out. Skilling held that the "honest services" doctrine [18 USC § 1346 text] is not unconstitutionally vague when construed narrowly. However, the appeals court initially rejected Ryan's appeal because it ruled that he had failed to object to the jury instructions in a timely manner. The appeals court must now consider whether it should raise Ryan's objection on its own, despite the fact that he failed to raise it in a timely manner at trial.

Illinois has two convicted former governors as Rod Blagojevich [personal website; JURIST news archive] was convicted [JURIST report] on 17 of 20 counts including attempting to sell or trade the US Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama. Blagojevich had also tried to cite Skilling, but a district judge denied a request [JURIST report] to delay the trial. In 2008, Ryan issued his first public apology [JURIST report] for the crimes that resulted in his imprisonment. Ryan was sentenced in 2007 and jailed [JURIST reports] on corruption charges. Ryan's trial began in 2005, and, in 2006, a jury found him guilty [JURIST reports] on multiple counts of corruption and fraud [indictment, PDF] in connection with a bribes-for-licenses scandal that occurred during Ryan's term as Illinois Secretary of State. Ryan made national headlines and won praise in some quarters in January 2003 when, just before leaving office, he commuted the executions [BBC report] of all Illinois inmates then on death row.

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