Federal appeals court overturns Sheldon Silver corruption conviction

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A federal appeals court overturned the corruption conviction of former New York state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Thursday after the panel ruled the jury was given flawed instructions on what constitutes an "official act." 

Silver was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison on charges that he used his political power in return for millions in kickbacks.

In a 54-page decision, the court said, based on a Supreme Court ruling from last year, instructions given by the judge to the jury in Silver's case were too broad.

Pace law school professor Bennet Gershman says even though Silver got off this time, he doesn't believe it will happen again.

"Because the judge didn't give the jury the rules that weren't in place at the time, the conviction has to be vacated because the bribery statute has to be re-written, reinterpreted by the Supreme Court to give a person a better chance at getting an acquittal," says Gershman. 

Democratic state Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti says he wasn't surprised that Silver's conviction was overturned. He says he is spearheading an effort to root out corruption in Albany from top to bottom. 

"We have to put in place mechanisms to ensure politicians don't misuse their power to enrich themselves," says Abinanti. 

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim says prosecutors will retry the case. He issued a statement on Thursday's decision:

"While we are disappointed by the Second Circuit's decision, we respect it, and look forward to retrying the case. Although finding that the Supreme Court's McDonnell decision issued after Silver's conviction required a different legal instruction to the jury, the Second Circuit also held that the evidence presented at the trial was sufficient to prove all the crimes charged against Silver, even under the new legal standard. Although this decision puts on hold the justice that New Yorkers got upon Silver's conviction, we look forward to presenting to another jury the evidence of decades-long corruption by one of the most powerful politicians in New York State history. Although it will be delayed, we do not expect justice to be denied."

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