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    • Brief

    United States v. Christopher Wright

    Wright and his co-defendants were indicted and tried on both conflict of interest and bribery theories of honest services fraud. The district and circuit courts both denied bail pending appeal while Skilling was pending. After Skilling the parties renewed the motion, the government did not object, and the Third Circuit ordered bail pending appeal. On appeal, the defense pursued both a judgment of acquittal and a new trial. Among other arguments, the government asserted that any errors with regard to honest services fraud should not disrupt the conviction on the traditional mail fraud count.

    Argument: On January 4, 2012, the Third Circuit vacated all counts of conviction and remanded for a new trial.  The court reasoned that all the honest services counts must be vacated even though they included a seemingly valid post-Skilling theory, because they were not limited to that theory.  The court further reasoned that the traditional mail fraud count must also be vacated due to the prejudicial spillover from the honest services fraud counts.  Notably, the court treated the Skilling issue as preserved, and thus applied harmless error rather than plain error review, even though the objections in the district court did not anticipate the precise contours of Skilling.  

    The rebuttal argument, made by lead attorney and NACDL Member Lisa Mathewson, was particularly effective at delineating the honest services fraud arguments.  The full oral argument audio can be accessed on the Third Circuit's website.

    In October 2014, the Third Circuit heard the defendants' argument that the government should be precluded from arguing the bribery theory of honest services fraud because the jury had already decided on that issue during the initial trial. The court's decision has yet to be released.