Thursday, November 13, 2008
Congressman William J. Jefferson receiving 57% of the votes in his bid for re-election to Congress (see here), may be facing a tougher issue as he lost his argument for dismissal of the criminal case pending against him, an indictment with conspiracy and substantive offenses. (see Indictment) (see here commentary on the Indictment). The district court had previously held that the grand jury proceedings and Indictment did not implicate the Speech and Debate Clause.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (opinion here) rejected Jefferson's contention that:
"the grand jury was improperly presented with evidence of his legislative acts and that such evidence was relevant to its decision to indict. He asserts that the Indictment thus contravenes the legislative immunity provided to him by the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, see U.S. Const. art. I, § 6, cl. 1, and must be dismissed."
In rejecting Jefferson's claim that the case should be dismissed, the Fourth Circuit stated:
"we are satisfied that the district court, in conducting the pretrial proceedings, accorded Congressman Jefferson every substantive and procedural protection to which he was entitled. As the court explained in its Opinion, it decided to analyze the Excerpts and review in camera certain grand jury materials "because the Speech or Debate Clause protection afforded legislators is so important, and out of an abundance of caution." United States v. Jefferson, 534 F. Supp. 2d 645, 649 (E.D. Va. 2008) (emphasis added). After conducting its review, the court concluded that the grand jury had not considered any Speech or Debate Clause material. See id. at 654. The court acknowledged, however — and we agree — that the controlling authorities did not compel such a comprehensive review. See id. at 649. Under the facts of this case, however, the court’s decision to act as it did in assessing Jefferson’s Speech or Debate Clause Claim was within its discretion and entirely appropriate. With the foregoing principles in mind, we are content to reject Jefferson’s request for further review of the grand jury record, and we affirm the district court’s refusal to dismiss the Indictment."
But although he lost this battle, one that seldom is won in the courts, the real test has yet to be determined.