The corruption conviction of former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was overturned Thursday by a federal appeals court that cited a recent Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of what it takes to convict a public official. The three-judge panel of the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said it couldn't conclude that a rational jury would have convicted the Democrat if it had been properly instructed on what constitutes an "official act." Silver was sentenced last year to 12 years in prison after he was convicted of collecting $4 million in kickbacks from a cancer researcher and real estate developers in return for using his powerful post to help them. He hasn't had to report to prison while he awaited the outcome of his appeal, the AP reports.
The appeals court said the judge's instructions on the law weren't consistent with the Supreme Court's recent reversal of the conviction of Virginia Republican ex-Gov. Bob McDonnell. "While the Government presented evidence of acts that remain 'official' under McDonnell, the jury may have convicted Silver for conduct that is not unlawful, and a properly instructed jury might have reached a different conclusion," the panel wrote. In reversing McDonnell's conviction on charges he illegally accepted more than $175,000 in loans and gifts from a businessman, the Supreme Court raised the standards federal prosecutors must use when they accuse public officials of wrongdoing. The ruling adds more uncertainty as to what will happen with the appeal of the conviction of former NY Senate leader Dean Skelos. Skelos, a Republican, was convicted in 2015 on extortion, bribery, and conspiracy charges and has cited the McDonnell ruling in his own pending appeal.