Supreme Court Decision Curtails Prosecuters' Use of Honest Services Fraud Charges

The haziest of white-collar crimes, honest services fraud has long been a kind of catchall for prosecutors, a case they could make whenever something more objective might not stick on its own. It was the ultimate discretionary tool and could often be added to bolster other charges, or when a fact pattern simply didn't pass the smell test.

Honest services fraud, however, was often criticized as overly broad and dangerously vague. Prosecutors could invoke it any time a public official deprived constituents of fair representation or an executive breached a fiduciary duty, which is to say almost at will.

Unconstitutionally Vague

The court's unanimous decision held that honest services fraud is too vague to be a crime unless a bribe or kickback was paid. Because clear bribery and kickback laws exist, the ruling effectively renders honest services fraud superfluous.

Contributing Author

Steven Andersen

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