The mistrial on most of the 24 counts brought against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich proved something that prosecutors know: It’s hard to convict politicians in corruption cases, reports National Public Radio. The fact that much of the public believes that most, if not all, politicians are crooks makes the job difficult. “When you’re dealing with corruption cases, there is a special dimension to jury dynamics,” says Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor now on the Columbia Law School faculty. “You have a group of people who have a sense of local norms and what is tolerated and what is not.”
Prosecutors don’t always have the sort of tools at their command that they did in the Blagojevich case – namely, a wiretap – to catch a politician on tape. But public corruption cases can be particularly tough because they often turn on exchanges that closely resemble the normal run of government business. It is common and generally perfectly legal for politicians to appoint campaign contributors to boards and commissions – if not necessarily a U.S. Senate seat, as Blagojevich, a Democrat, allegedly contemplated doing. “Sad to say, given the role of money in politics in the United States, there really isn’t a categorical difference between the run of politics as usual and felony fraud,” Richman says.