A federal appeals court today overturned the 2015 corruption conviction of Sheldon Silver, the once-powerful New York State Assembly speaker who obtained nearly $4 million in illicit payments in return for taking official actions that benefited others, according to evidence presented at his trial, the New York Times reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year in the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell that narrowed the definition of the kind of official conduct that can serve as the basis of a corruption prosecution.
The appeals court said the jury instructions given by the judge in Silver’s trial were erroneous and that a properly instructed jury might not have convicted him.“We recognize that many would view the facts adduced at Silver’s trial with distaste,” Judge José Cabranes wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel. “The question presented to us, however, is not how a jury would likely view the evidence presented by the government. Rather, it is whether it is clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a rational jury, properly instructed, would have found Silver guilty.” Prosecutors still could retry Mr. Silver, a 73-year-old Democrat who served for more than two decades as Assembly speaker. He was convicted of honest services fraud, extortion and money laundering. Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison but he was allowed to remain free pending his appeal.