McDonnell v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: June 27, 2016
  • Case #: 15-474
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS. CJ, delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court
  • Full Text Opinion

The government’s interpretation of the term “official act” in the federal bribery statute, 18 U.S.C. 201(a)(3), was overly broad and would lead to the criminalization of a variety of legitimate acts that public officials perform daily in their duty as representatives of the will of the voters.

A federal district court convicted Petitioner, a former Virginia Governor, of Hobbs Act extortion and honest services fraud after finding that McDonnell, while governor of Virginia, used the power of his office to aid a pharmaceutical drug research company in exchange for luxury items and over $175,000 in gifts provided by Jonnie R. Williams, the pharmaceutical company’s CEO. Petitioner's conviction turned on the court’s interpretation of “official act” in the Federal Bribery Statute 18 U.S.C. 201(a)(3). McDonnell requested an alternative jury instruction as to the definition of “official act” but the judge denied his request and the Fourth Circuit affirmed the lower court's ruling. On appeal, a unanimous Supreme Court reversed, finding that, in addition to raising questions of federalism and due process, the government’s interpretation of “official act” was so broad as to lead to the criminalization of otherwise legitimate acts public officials perform daily in their capacity as representatives of the will of the people, such as setting meetings and planning events. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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