Blagojevich Closing Arguments: Ex Governor Could Face Up to 415 Years

Racketeering, bribery, and conspiracy, oh my

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Closing arguments in the Blagojevich trial come Monday.  Contrary to his previous declarations, the former governor will not be taking the stand, thus shortening the trial. Here are the observations from the media as the case is handed over to the jury:

  • Complicated Jury Instructions  The jury instructions are "where the judge tells the jury what the law is," explains Mark Brown at The Chicago Sun-Times. Then the jurors apply it in their decision. The defense is eager to turn the jury instructions in this case to their advantage. They have already "raised objections" to the roughly 120 pages of instructions, objections which "they hope could later turn into the basis for an appeal if their clients lose." In fact, writes Brown, "[t]his is such a specialty area that the Blagojevich team called in reinforcements in the person of Marc Martin, a defense attorney known for being particularly adept at crafting proposed instructions that could give his client an edge, either in the jury room or on appeal." Brown points out that Martin was part of the team responsible for getting Conrad Black released on bail last week, and that the charges against Black and Blagojevich both involve the "honest services" corruption law.
  • Questionable Defense Argument  The defense is using an argument called "advice of counsel," explains Janan Hanna at The Huffington Post. "To argue the advice of counsel defense is to say that your lawyers steered you completely wrong and therefore, you could not possibly have formed the criminal intent state of mind that is required for a conviction." The problem is that "courts are divided" on whether this argument is legitimate in general, and, in this particular case, the advice lawyers are alleging Blagojevich sought came merely in the form of the governor's conversations with his aides, who happened to have law degrees. To further weaken the argument, argues Hanna, "[n]othing in the federal wiretaps show that Blagojevich was using his aides and fundraisers to seek legal advice."
  • One Possible Outcome  MSNBC's First Read team lays out the sentencing possibilities:
Blagojevich is charged with 24 separate counts, including racketeering, attempted extortion, bribery, and conspiracy. Most of the crimes carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison. If he is convicted of all charges, gets the maximum sentences and is ordered to serve them consecutively--a highly unlikely combination of outcomes--he'd face 415 years in prison. Also if he’s convicted, Blagojevich would be the fourth former Illinois governor to be convicted, and the third for acts as governor.
  • Winners and Losers from the Truncated Trial  At the Chicago Tribune, John Kass suggests President Obama should be relieved: "with Blago cutting short his defense, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff, won't be called as a defense witness." Others are similarly off the hook, including Jesse Jackson Jr., whom, it now appears, did entertain the offer of a Senate seat for cash. Writes Kass: "He's lucky. Very lucky. He should leave politics and go to Vegas." Journalists, meanwhile, shall weep that they got no chance to see Blagojevich testify under oath.
  • Illinois's Three-Ring Circus  Though "the state's most infamous Elvis impersonator had vowed to take the stand at his corruption trial," he wound up staying silent. "In Illinois politics, fiction is the only truth," concludes another Tribune man, Steve Chapman, reviewing the past few years. "Of the most recent eight governors (not including the incumbent), three have been convicted of felonies. That's a batting average of .375, which is high in any league." Now Blagojevich may follow suit. His successor, too, has already disappointed. Governor Pat Quinn abandoned all talk of a special election to fill the contested Senate seat as soon as it became clear that "Democrats might lose."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.