* 9:51 am - From Courthouse News Service…
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan will get another chance to challenge his mail-fraud conviction, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The disgraced politician, who is serving 6 1/2 years for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and lying to the FBI, found relief in precedent set just last week by the high court.
On April 24, the justices said appellate panels cannot deny a prisoner’s habeas petition based on issues that the state has chosen not to raise.
Ryan’s second appeal to the 7th Circuit argued that jury instructions and several evidentiary rulings were defective in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Skilling v. United States. The errors, Ryan contended, permitted the jury to convict him on an honest-services theory without finding a bribe or kickback.
But the federal appeals court found that Skilling permitted his fraud conviction because the record established that Ryan took bribes in exchange for official services.
“Jury instructions that misstate the elements of an offense are not themselves a ground of collateral relief; likewise with erroneous evidentiary rulings,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court.
Whereas lawyers for Jeffrey Skilling challenged the mail-fraud statute directly, Ryan’s lawyers contributed to the jury instructions that they now claim caused prejudice, thus forfeiting the challenge, the three-judge panel found.
“If Ryan’s lawyers had done what Skilling’s lawyers did, the controlling decision today might be Ryan rather than Skilling,” Easterbrook wrote, referencing the fact that Ryan’s petition for certiorari beat Skilling’s to the Supreme Court.
* A more succinct explanation from Crain’s…
The appeal is based on whether the governor’s defense team effectively waived their objections to the district court judge’s instructions to the jury, even though government prosecutors conceded that those objections had not been waived.
The court ruled that Mr. Ryan’s conviction has to be reconsidered in light of last week’s unanimous Supreme Court decision in Wood v. Milyard, which restricted what a court can do when a government prosecutor doesn’t object to a defendant’s legal argument.
Ryan’s appellate attorney, Albert Alschuler, said that the ruling means the case will be sent back to the appellate court to reconsider the question of whether Ryan waived his objections to the jury instructions.
But Alschuler said there re still many issues to resolve.
“For now, it’s just further appellate proceedings,” he said. “The court is now remanding the case for the 7th Circuit to reconsider its ruling. Ultimately, it means we have a whole lot of issues to consider. But when all of those issues are considered, we’re hopeful the court would give Gov. Ryan a new trial.”
Another Ryan lawyer, former Gov. James Thompson, said it’s likely, though, that rather than a new trial, the defense team hopes ultimately to have some of the counts on which Ryan was convicted thrown out, allowing him to be released from prison on time served. [Emphasis added.]