The Honest Services Argument and the Culture of Deceit

My friend Bill Otis is now writing for the Crime and Consequences blog. In this piece, he considers two pending Supreme Court cases in which the issue is whether a defendant may be convicted for fraud under federal law merely for deceit, even if he did not intend economic harm to those he deceived or violate state law. The defendants are newspaper magnate Conrad Black and former Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch.
Bill observes that the case is a “conundrum for conservatives”:

On the one hand, it features a criminal statute whose breadth seems rife with opportunities for prosecutorial overreach — and Big Government is nowhere more menacing than in its power to imprison those not in step. On the other hand, the slide toward a culture of dishonesty, in which deceptiveness and outright lying increasingly threaten the trust essential for commercial and civic life, is scarcely something conservatives can welcome.

Bill concludes that, although we are “in need of an enforceable requirement for honest dealing in everyday life,” the Supreme Court is likely to find itself “without the tools that would make it able or willing to take up the task.”


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