Spencer sets a low bar for conviction

The McDonnell jury now has the case, and by the looks of the instructions Judge Spencer has given them, the bar for conviction on the corruption charges may be set quite low:

To find the couple guilty of the core corruption charges pending against them, jurors must decide that they entered into an agreement with Williams to accept his largess in exchange for agreeing to perform “official acts” for him or his company.

Ever since they were indicted in January, defense attorneys have argued that Spencer should define an “official act” narrowly and tell the jury that simply setting up a meeting or holding an event does not qualify.

Instead, Spencer decided on a definition that prosecutors insisted has been established in past cases as proper. He told jurors that an official act means “any decision or action on any question, matter, cause, suit or controversy, which may at any time be pending or which may by law be brought before any public official, in such public official’s capacity.”

He told them that the action can include acts “that a public official customarily performs” even if they are not prescribed in law, that the acts can be merely steps intended to further a longer term goal and that the official need not have actual power over the goal, provided the person paying a bribe reasonably believed he held influence over it.

They were told that what the McDonnells stand accused of doing is “performing official actions on an as-needed basis, as opportunities arose, to legitimize, promote and obtain research studies for Star Scientific’s studies.”

By that measure, it looks hard for the McDonnells to escape some sort of conviction.

But all of this depends upon whether there was a deal.

Bob McDonnell testified there was no deal with Jonnie Williams. The best Williams could say was that he wasn’t sure they had a deal, but that McDonnell should have known what he wanted in return for all that cash.

If there is no deal, the corruption charges fail. But that’s now up to the jury to decide.

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