Embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is under fire on two fronts, facing an impeachment trial that could oust him from office as federal prosecutors continue a corruption investigation that alleges he sought to sell President Obama's U.S. Senate seat. In an interview with News Bureau Business & Law editor Jan Dennis, University of Illinois law professor Andrew Leipold, an expert in criminal law and procedure, discusses how the dual investigations could be intertwined.
Could the impeachment trial of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich have any impact on the pending criminal case against him?
The impeachment trial might affect the criminal case, but only indirectly. Neither a conviction nor an acquittal in the Illinois Senate would raise a legal bar to a criminal trial, but new information might come to light in the impeachment trial.
For example, the governor might have documents that prosecutors have not seen that might help explain away some of the alleged wrongdoing. There might be witnesses who have not yet been heard from who might shed new light on the facts, or who might be discredited. More generally, in the process of defending himself, the governor could reveal a defense strategy that helps the prosecutor in his ongoing investigation.
It is also possible that the impeachment trial might influence potential jurors, those who someday will hear the criminal case. This could be a plus or a minus. If the governor is acquitted, it might make the eventual jurors more sympathetic to the defense. If convicted and removed from office, unbiased jurors might be harder to find in the criminal trial, either because the jurors have already heard the damaging evidence or because they assume that being kicked out of office proved that a crime occurred. Or perhaps the jurors would think that the former governor had already been punished enough. It's all speculation.
Federal prosecutors say their investigation of Blagojevich might have stretched quietly to spring if they hadn't feared the potential consequences of a "corruption crime spree." How long might the ongoing criminal investigation take and what could it yield?
Normally, a federal grand jury investigation can take whatever time is needed, subject only to the statute of limitations on the alleged crimes and the resources of the prosecutor's office. Now that the governor has been arrested, though, I'm sure the U.S. attorney feels pressure to move the case forward. The Speedy Trial Act puts some limit on how long the prosecutor can take before seeking an indictment, although the prosecutor can and has obtained extensions of time.
Still, I'm sure the U.S. attorney is moving as quickly as he prudently can, as cases like this rarely get better with age.
As to what further things the investigation might reveal, that's hard to say. If the allegations in the criminal complaint are true, that the governor was engaged in a "crime spree" of corruption, I'm guessing that there will be more "pay to play" counts - more instances of the governor allegedly using the decision-making power of his office to solicit contributions.
What legal options are available to Blagojevich in the criminal case, beyond the obvious pleas of guilty or not guilty?
There has not been an indictment yet, so in theory the case could collapse if the grand jury refuses to approve formal charges. But this is so unlikely that it is hardly worth mentioning. Assuming an indictment is returned, the governor's primary options are 1) fight the charges to the end, which means going to trial, or 2) trying to work out a deal with the prosecutor. The latter would involve the governor pleading guilty to something in return for some charges being dropped or reduced, or some benefit at sentencing.
The defense team is probably constantly weighing and reweighing these options as the facts emerge, but it might be difficult to do a meaningful evaluation now without a formal charge. There will lots of meetings and strategy sessions once an indictment is returned. And, of course, even if the evidence turns out to be strong the governor might decide to go to trial anyway. He might genuinely feel that he has done nothing wrong, or he may feel that he has nothing to lose by letting a jury decide his fate. Even though federal prosecutors obtain a conviction in 80 to 90 percent of the trials they conduct, the governor might believe that once the full facts are revealed a jury might decide that nothing criminal occurred.
How much might the criminal investigation and prosecution cost taxpayers? And, if the governor is convicted, could prosecutors seek restitution from Blagojevich's personal and campaign funds to cover costs of the case?
I don't know how much the prosecution is costing, but it is undoubtedly a lot. Keep in mind, though, that most of the expense comes from 'opportunity costs' - that is, the cost of not prosecuting other alleged criminals because the resources are tied up in prosecuting the governor. Most of the direct expenses - the salaries of the lawyers, agents, and staff who are working on the case - would be incurred anyway.
Depending on the charges that are eventually brought, in the event of a conviction the governor might be required to pay back funds that he obtained illegally, or could be ordered to pay restitution to crime victims. But, in general, convicted defendants are not ordered to pay the costs of their own prosecution.