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Supreme Court Hands Down Partial Victory For Ex-Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling

Jeffrey Skilling Sentenced In Enron Trial

Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling in 2006, after he was sentenced to 24 years and four months in prison for his role in deceiving investors. Johnny Hanson/Getty Images North America hide caption

itoggle caption Johnny Hanson/Getty Images North America

According to the Associated Press, "the Supreme Court has sided with former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling in limiting the use of a federal fraud law that has been a favorite of white-collar crime prosecutors."

The court said Thursday that the "honest services" law could not be used in convicting Skilling for his role in the collapse of Enron.  But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion that the ruling does not necessarily require Skilling conviction to be overturned.

In its opinion, the Court said it weighed two questions:

First, did pretrial publicity and community prejudice prevent Skilling from obtaining a fair trial?

Second, did the jury improperly convict Skilling of conspiracy to commit "honest-services" wire fraud?

Answering the first question, the Supreme Court sided with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals: "Skilling, we hold, did not establish that a presumption of juror prejudice arose or that actual bias infected the jury that tried him."

Tackling the second question, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, said that, "in proscribing fraudulent deprivations of 'the intangible right of honest services,' Congress intended at least to reach schemes to defraud involving bribes and kickbacks."

Construing the honest-services statute to extend beyond that core meaning, we conclude, would encounter a vagueness shoal.  We therefore hold that the ["honest-services" law] covers only bribery and kickback schemes.

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