October 19, 2006
Hoisted on the Statute of Limitations Petard
The prosecution of Peter Davis in connection with corruption at the Springfield (Mass.) Housing Authority came to a precipitous end when U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor dismissed the charges as barred by the statute of limitations. Davis, a retired contractor, was among thirteen defendants charged in 2004 in a 100-count indictment involving Housing Authority executives and outside contractors who allegedly provided benefits in exchange for contracts. Unfortunately for the government, Davis retired from his business in 1998, and so the indictment only covered his conduct within the past five years, i.e. back to 1999. The RICO and conspiracy charges could survive if there were acts within the limitations period. The government alleged that Davis made false statements to agents about the misconduct as late as 2003, relying on the cover-up as an additional overt act in the conspiracy and as part of the RICO enterprise. While some conspiracies incorporate a cover-up as part of the criminal agreement, courts have been chary about extending this rationale too far because it would effectively mean conspiracies never end.
Judge Ponsor, who from experience is a very thoughtful jurist, entered the judgment of acquittal right before the jury was to hear closing arguments. The defense team, led by James Rehnquist, son of the late Chief Justice, argued to the jury that the case fell outside the statute of limitations in addition to a defense that Davis did not pay any bribes. Because the statute of limitations was an issue before the jury, the Judge's decision on the issue is a factual determination, rather than a legal one, and so double jeopardy attaches and it cannot be appealed. A Springfield Republican story (here) discusses the decision to end the trial abruptly. (ph)
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