Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Supreme Court decision on political bribes casts shadow over Utah AG prosecutions

Posted By on June 28, 2016, 2:32 PM

click to enlarge bribes.jpg
It has been billed the biggest political scandal to ever hit the Beehive State, namely  the prosecution of former Attorney Generals Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow over multiple felony and misdemeanor charges alleging political corruption. 

Several years after charges were filed, however, battles over access to evidence held by the federal government have sparked lengthy delays—delays that could spell freedom for the two disgraced former politicians. 

On Monday, June 27, 2016, the United States Supreme Court's unanimous decision on McDonnell vs. United States to overturn the conviction of former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell and his wife for accepting bribes  has raised questions over whether politicians can be held accountable for this activity. 

The New Yorker's Amy Davidson wrote, "Today, the Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, that a Virginia jury was wrong to think that McDonnell's actions obviously counted as official corruption. What's more, in vacating his conviction, the Court set a new standard for official-bribery cases that is so absurdly narrow that it will likely be almost impossible to convict any but the most bumbling politician of the crime. "

That new standard means Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, whose office is prosecuting Mark Shurtleff, now has to assess whether the evidence his office has against the former AG, while prosecutable under Utah's statute against accepting gifts, will be overturned on appeal because of the new federal ruling. He doesn't want to waste tax payers' money, he says, on a prosecution that can't meet the standards set by the Supreme Court. 

"The McDonnell decision could have a significant impact on the state of Utah's case versus Mark Shurtleff," Rawlings says. "It very well may alter the trajectory of that case as we consider the facts and evidence in light of the new  legal standard announced by the Supreme Court." 

On Friday, June  24, 2016, Shurtleff's criminal defense team filed a motion to dismiss all counts against him. Shurtleff's attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While only three of the current seven charges Shurtleff faces relate to the Utah statute against politicians receiving gifts, all seven charges, Rawlings  says, relate to "a similar type of generalized theme or conduct, which is improperly using the power of the AG's office in a way that benefits others." While noting that Shurtleff is presumed innocent and may in fact be innocent, Rawlings stated "in essence, while it may be called different names, the allegations all tend to get to the same conduct of public corruption."  

Asked about the likelihood that he would have to dismiss the charges against Shurtleff, Rawlings replied that it would depend on his office's review of the evidence and facts in light of the decision. "If we feel we can't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, then the likelihood of dismissal is 100 percent. If, after reviewing the evidence, we feel we can still prove the case legitimately, we will move forward on whatever charges we feel ethically and appropriately survive the analysis of the decision."  

You can read the the Supreme Court decision below. 

Supreme Court's McDonnell Decision by City Weekly

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who is prosecuting Swallow, is out of the state this week. Via email, he offered a different perspective on McDonnell than Rawlings.  He wrote that his office was reviewing the decision, but noted that "the ruling applies to federal statute not state and it addresses issue of jury instructions." He added he would have a clearer perspective when he returns to Utah and can consult with his team. He concluded by adding that the decision is "not applicable to all counts."

This story will be further updated. 

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