Former Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has had his conviction of lying to the FBI overturned by an appeals court. The judgment was predicated on the grounds that the trial took place in a state where the alleged crime was not committed. This most recent decision means that the ex-Congressman may have to be retried if the prosecution decides to proceed.
In a judgment released Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Donato wrote, “Fortenberry’s trial took place in a state where no charged crime was committed and before a jury drawn from the vicinage of the federal agencies that investigated the defendant.” He further opined that the Constitution does not allow such happenings, and therefore, the convictions were consequently reversed.
In the wake of the decision, the former Congressman could only be retried in a state where the charged crime was committed – a proper venue, Donato ruled. This important judgment has thus tossed a lifeline to Fortenberry, opening up an avenue for a possible retrial.
Last year, a federal judge in Los Angeles sentenced Fortenberry to two years of probation for lying to federal authorities about receiving an illegal campaign contribution. The sentence also included a $25,000 fine and 320 hours of mandatory community service. The conviction led to the Congressman’s resignation shortly after the decision was reached.
Fortenberry had been accused by the prosecution of lying about receiving $30,000 in an illegal campaign donation. The money was alleged to have flowed from a Nigerian billionaire at a fundraiser held in Los Angeles in 2016. The FBI maintains that Fortenberry provided false information during the investigation on multiple occasions.
In his opinion, Judge Donato stated, “We conclude that an effects-based test for the venue of a Section 1001 offense has no support in the Constitution, the text of the statute, or historical practice.” He thus declared the conviction reversed, adding the caveat without prejudice to retrial in a proper venue.
The others who sat on the appeals panel alongside Judge Donato were Judges Salvador Mendoza Jr. and Gabriel Sanchez. Their decision upholds the principle of the rights of the accused in maintaining their right to be tried in a proper venue.
Following the ruling, Fortenberry expressed satisfaction with the judgment in a statement. He said, “We are gratified by the Ninth Circuit’s decision. Celeste and I would like to thank everyone who has stood by us and supported us with their kindness and friendship.”
The fallout and implications of this important decision remain to be seen. It will be interesting to see if the prosecutors will decide to retry Fortenberry in a different venue. Further developments in this case will be keenly watched as they unfold. Legal pundits and observers are likely to scrutinize the retrial process and how it could potentially impact future cases involving federal offenses.
In any case, the verdict squarely places the ball in the court of the prosecutors, who must now determine how best to proceed. The charges against Fortenberry and his possible retrial represent a significant chapter in the discourse around the degree of accountability public figures, particularly politicians, should maintain over how campaign funds are received.
The Ninth Circuit’s decision underscores the crucial importance of the legal principle of the appropriate venue our court systems adhere to. It functions as a reinforcement of the central tenets of the Constitution and its role in protecting citizens from being subjected to trials in jurisdictions with no connection to the alleged crime.
This case certainly adds another layer to the ongoing conversation about campaign finance laws and their enforcement. As the dust settles on the decision, all eyes are on the prosecutors’ next steps and the potential implications for Fortenberry’s future.