Friday, March 06, 2009

Scope of conspiracy dictates statute of limitations, while Third Circuit muddies law on quid pro quo bribery

The Third Circuit today reaffirmed that, in applying statutes of limitations in the conspiracy context, the critical issue is the scope of the conspiracy charged in the indicment--not, necessarily, the dates of the overt acts recited. In U.S. v. Bornman, No. 07-3447 (3/6/09), the Court was faced with an indictment charging two conspiracies to commit bribery (18 U.S.C. s 371 and 666(a)(1)(B)). The indictment described the object of the first conspiracy as "to enrich [defendants] by corruptly soliciting and accepting payments from contractors with the intent of being influenced . . . ." It also recited six overt acts, including solicitation and acceptance of payments as well as (1) the return of one of the payments as a "loan," and (2) the refusal to return another of the payments as a "loan." Only these last two overt acts fell within the 5-year limitations period, however.

The Court held that, because the conspiracy was charged as having a simple solicit/accept object, the conspiracy was complete when that occurred and the later return or refusal to return the payments as "loans" could not have furthered the conspiracy as charged. The statute of limitations had therefore run, and the defendant's convictions on the first conspiracy count, as well as on the underlying extortion counts, were vacated. The second conspiracy count charged a later conspiracy, which was not time-barred. The Court upheld the defendant's conviction on that count against a sufficiency-0f-the-evidence challenge.

Perhaps inadvertently, the Court also dropped a bombshell by stating without analysis that section 666 bribery does not require proof of a quid pro quo. This issue has not previously been addressed in this circuit, is the subject of a split among others, was not actually at issue in Bornman -- and, in result, is arguably inconsistent with the Third Circuit's decision in U.S. v. Kemp. The Court's cite to the Supreme Court's decision in Sabri v. U.S., 541 U.S. 600 (2004) suggests that it confused the federal nexus issue (i.e., the government need not show a link between the official act in question and the federal funds that provide the jurisdictional hook) with the quid pro quo issue (i.e., the government does need to show a link -- an exchange -- between the official act and the thing of value).

The Court also turned away the defendant's challenge to the denial of his severance motion, reaffirming that the difficult standard for severance is not met by a showing that the evidence in a case is most damaging with respect to only certain counts.

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The District Court's indication of the sentence it would impose before the defendant allocuted was not reversible plain error.

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