Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In 2016, Jesse Benton, a political operative, received funds from Roman Vasilenko, a foreign national, and contributed those funds to a fundraiser supporting then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump. Benton was subsequently convicted of six felonies related to the unlawful contribution and related campaign finance filings. Benton appealed his conviction on several grounds, including challenges to the government’s decision to prosecute campaign finance crimes under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the admissibility of an earlier pardoned conviction, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the jury charge.The District Court denied Benton's motion to dismiss the charges, ruling that the Sarbanes-Oxley Act could be applied to false campaign finance filings. The court also allowed the admission of Benton's earlier pardoned conviction under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) and its use at sentencing. After a three-day jury trial, Benton was found guilty on all counts. He was sentenced to eighteen months' incarceration and twenty-four months' supervised release.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the government had discretion to prosecute under either the Sarbanes-Oxley Act or the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). The court also found no error in the district court's admission of Benton's pardoned conviction under Rule 404(b) and declined to review Benton's challenge to the use of the pardoned conviction at sentencing. Finally, the court rejected Benton's challenges to the jury instructions, finding that any error was invited by Benton himself. View "United States v. Benton" on Justia Law

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit considered an appeal by Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff under President Donald Trump, who sought to move his state criminal prosecution to federal court. The state of Georgia had indicted Meadows for crimes related to alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election. Meadows argued that because these actions were taken in his official capacity, they should be heard in federal court according to the federal-officer removal statute (28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1)). The district court denied this request because Meadows' charged conduct was not performed under the color of his federal office. The court of appeals affirmed this decision. It ruled that the federal-officer removal statute does not apply to former federal officers and even if it did, the alleged actions leading to this criminal action were not related to Meadows’ official duties. The court concluded that the former chief of staff’s role does not include influencing state officials with allegations of election fraud or altering valid election results in favor of a particular candidate, regardless of the chief of staff's role with respect to state election administration. Therefore, Meadows was not entitled to invoke the federal-officer removal statute. View "The State of Georgia v. Meadows" on Justia Law

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In a case involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has partially upheld and partially vacated a lower court's order restricting Trump's public statements about the trial. The case stems from Trump being indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election through unlawful means and for obstructing the election’s certification. Trump had posted numerous statements on social media attacking potential witnesses in the case, the judge, and the prosecution team. The lower court issued an order restraining the parties and their counsel from making public statements that "target" the parties, counsel and their staffs, court personnel, and "any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony." On appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the order insofar as it prohibited all parties and their counsel from making public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in the criminal proceeding. The court also upheld the order to the extent it prohibited parties and their counsel from making public statements about counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or the family members of any counsel or staff member, if those statements were made with the intent to materially interfere with the trial or with the knowledge that such interference was highly likely to result. However, the court vacated the order to the extent it covered speech beyond these categories. The court found that the order was justified by a sufficiently serious risk of prejudice to an ongoing judicial proceeding, that no less restrictive alternatives would adequately address that risk, and that the order was narrowly tailored to ensure the fair administration of justice while also respecting Trump's First Amendment rights. View "USA v. Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the trial court's summary judgment to the three named state official defendants in this complaint seeking a temporary injunction related to the August 6, 2020 election, holding that Plaintiff was required to comply with both Tenn. Code Ann. 2-19-143(3) and Tenn. Code Ann. 40-29-202 before he could be re-enfranchised.Plaintiff, a Tennessee resident since 2018, was convicted in 1986 of involuntary manslaughter in Virginia. In 2020, the governor of Virginia granted Plaintiff clemency, thus reinstating his right to vote in Virginia. Later that year, Plaintiff attempted to register to vote in Grainger County, Tennessee but was denied. Plaintiff brought this lawsuit arguing that Tenn. Code Ann. 2-19-143(3) requires the state to re-enfranchise persons convicted of infamous crimes out of state when the governor or the appropriate authority of such other state restores that person's rights of citizenship. The chancery court granted summary judgment for Defendants, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, to regain the right of suffrage in Tennessee, Plaintiff and other similarly situated individuals must comply with both Tenn. Code Ann. 2-19-143(3) and the additional requirements set forth in Tenn. Code Ann. 40-29-202. View "Falls v. Goins" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed a judgment against him following a jury trial where he was convicted of one count of conspiring to illegally donate  monies to a political campaign and one count of aiding and abetting over $25,000 of such donations. Defendant argued that the district court erred in giving the standard jury instruction on willfulness: that “a person acts ‘willfully’ when he acts with a ‘bad purpose’ to disobey or disregard the law. Further, Defendant challenged the district court’s refusal to 1) instruct the jury that for count one, a co-conspirator must knowingly and willfully join the conspiracy with the “intent of achieving [the alleged conspiracy’s] unlawful objectives, namely violation of the federal election laws;” and 2) to provide e a good faith defense charge.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained it is not necessary for the government to prove that the defendant was aware of the specific provision of the law that he is charged with violating.” Further, the district court charged the jury that the government needed to prove  Defendant acted willfully, knowingly, and voluntarily. As the district court aptly noted, “to have found that Defendants acted willfully, the jury had to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that they intentionally did something that the law forbids, the opposite of good faith.” Where, as here, the district court correctly instructed the jury as to knowledge and willfulness and the defendant’s theory was thus “effectively presented elsewhere in the charge,” its refusal to provide a separate “good faith defense” instruction is not reversible error. View "United States v. Kukushkin" on Justia Law

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Based on activity related to former Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat held by Mitch McConnell in 2014, Emmons and Lundergan (Grimes’s father) were convicted for knowingly and willfully making unlawful corporate contributions aggregating $25,000 or more, Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30109(d)(1)(A)(i), 30118, and 18 U.S.C. 2; conspiracy to defraud the United States, 18 U.S.C. 371; willfully causing the submission of materially false statements, 18 U.S.C 1001(a)(2) and 2; and the falsification of records or documents, 18 U.S.C. 1519 and 2.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting a challenge to the constitutionality of the ban on corporate contributions as applied to intrafamilial contributions from a closely-held, family-run corporation. Such contributions present a risk of quid pro quo corruption. The district court adequately distinguished between independent expenditures and contributions in the jury instructions. The district court properly admitted evidence of Lundergan’s uncharged acts in connection with Grimes’ campaigns for Kentucky Secretary of State as res gestae evidence and under 404(b). The government presented sufficient evidence for a rational juror to find that Emmons had the requisite intent to cause unlawful corporate contributions and the Grimes campaign to submit false campaign-finance reports. View "United States v. Emmons" on Justia Law

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Attorney Smukler ran political campaigns for 30 years and developed expertise with Federal Election Commission law. In 2012, U.S. Representative Brady ran for reelection in Pennsylvania’s First Congressional District in Philadelphia. Brady's challenger, Moore, struggled to raise money and personally loaned his campaign about $150,000. Brady agreed to give Moore $90,000 to drop out of the race. To steer the money to Moore, Smukler devised a plan that involved a bogus corporation, “dummy invoices,” and funneling cash through a political consulting firm. In the 2014 Democratic Primary for the Thirteenth Congressional District of Pennsylvania, Smukler dipped into the general election reserve on behalf of former U.S. Representative Margolies, then used friends and family as strawmen to evade federal election laws.Smukler was convicted on nine counts of election law violations. He was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, plus fines and assessments. The Third Circuit vacated the convictions on two counts but otherwise affirmed. The court upheld the jury instructions defining the term “willfully,” except with respect to counts that charged Smukler with violating 18 U.S.C. 2 and 1001(a)(1) by causing the false statements of others within the Brady and Margolies campaigns. A proper charge for willfulness in cases brought under those sections in the federal election law context requires the prosecution to prove that defendant knew of the statutory obligations, that he attempted to frustrate those obligations, and that he knew his conduct was unlawful. View "United States v. Smukler" on Justia Law

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Mohamed Awad appealed a district court order denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea to a charge of knowingly voting when not qualified to do so. On appeal, Awad argued the district court should have allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea because he was not adequately advised under N.D.R.Crim.P. 11(b) of the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty, and because he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Finding no reversible error, the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court order. View "North Dakota v. Awad" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal addressed an issue of first impression involving declarations containing false information collected by defendant Dolores Lucero, to be used in court to support of her request for injunctive relief to halt a petition drive to recall her from her position as a city council member for the City of Shasta Lake (Shasta Lake). Defendant submitted the declarations to law enforcement, and an investigation against a person involved in the recall effort was initiated as a result. Defendant duped several people who had signed the recall petition into signing these declarations. A jury convicted defendant of violating Penal Code section 134. She was thereafter placed on probation for three years with various terms and conditions including that she serve 30 days in jail. Two years into her probation, defendant petitioned for early termination of probation and the court granted it. On appeal, defendant contended: (1) section 134 was inapplicable to the circumstances of this case and that Penal Code section 118 (perjury) was a more specific statute that covered her conduct; (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction; (3) the trial court committed prejudicial instructional error related to the instructions on the charged offense; (4) the testimony of one of the declarants, Charles Lukens, was coerced and that the trial court erred in excluding evidence offered to show that Lukens had a motive to conform his testimony to the prosecution’s theory of the case; and (5) certain probation conditions must be struck because they are unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "California v. Lucero" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, petitioners sought review of the Oregon Attorney General’s certified ballot title for Initiative Petition (IP) 43 (2018), contending that various aspects did not comply with requirements set out in ORS 250.035(2). IP 43 proposed a statutory enactment that, with exceptions including a limited registration scheme, would prohibit the unlawful possession or transfer of an “assault weapon” or a “large capacity magazine,” as those terms are defined in the proposed measure. After defining the weapons and magazines within its scope, IP 43 created a new crime, “unlawful possession or transfer of an assault weapon or large capacity magazine,” for any person who “manufactures, imports, possesses, purchases, sells or transfers any assault weapon or large capacity magazine,” with exceptions. After review, the Oregon Supreme Court referred the ballot title for IP 43 back to the Attorney General for modification of the caption, the “yes” and “no” result statements, and the summary. View "Beyer v. Rosenblum" on Justia Law