The corruption conviction of former 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 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said it could not 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 in a $4 million corruption case. He has not had to report to prison while he awaited the outcome of his appeal.
The appeals court said the judge’s instructions on the law were not 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 2nd Circuit said the instructions given to the Silver jury by the trial judge were consistent with precedential rulings in other cases prior to the Supreme Court decision in the McDonnell case.
A spokesman for Manhattan prosecutors and lawyers for Silver didn’t immediately comment.