Shapiro Arato Wins New Trial on All Counts for Former New York State Senate Majority Leader in Second Circuit Public Corruption Appeal
On September 26, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated the criminal convictions of our client, former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and awarded him a new trial. The government had charged Mr. Skelos with several counts of public corruption, arguing that Mr. Skelos had pressured companies with business before the state legislature to make payments to his son. In vacating the convictions, the Court held that the jury instructions at Mr. Skelos’s trial allowed the jury to convict him for conduct that is not a crime. These instructions did not comport with the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. McDonnell, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), as they incorrectly stated that the “official action” underlying a bribery conviction may include “any act taken under color of official authority,” without exception. The Second Circuit held that this error was not harmless because the government had urged the jury to convict Mr. Skelos for arranging and attending meetings: conduct that, after McDonnell, does not qualify as “official action” for purposes of the bribery laws. And, according to the Court, this error was compounded by the district court’s admission of witness testimony that attending meetings and making public statements are part of the “official duties” of state senators.
The opinion in United States v. Skelos can be found here.