Blagojevich jury needed ‘complete crime’ to convict

Prosecution lacked evidence showing former Illinois governor actually took money, WUSTL expert says

The deadlocked jury in the federal corruption trial of former Illinois Governor Rod Blogojevich may be due to a deficit in the prosecution’s “smoking guns,” according to a Washington University in St. Louis professor of law.


“Juries often have a problem convicting when there isn’t clear evidence of a complete crime,” says Peter A. Joy, JD, also a vice dean in the WUSTL School of Law.

After 14 days of deliberations, the panel found Blagojevich guilty Aug. 17 on only one count — a charge of lying to federal investigators — of the 24-count indictment. The jurors told U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Chicago that they were deadlocked on the remaining counts.

During the trial, prosecutors presented several of what they called “smoking gun” tapes of the former governor attempting to wield his influence. But the evidence lacked a critical element, Joy says.

“In the hundreds of hours of Blagojevich on tape, he was never taped discussing actually receiving money in exchange for something,” Joy says. “It is one thing to have a politician on video taking cash or an audio tape talking about receiving something and another thing to have someone talking about wanting to solicit money from someone. “

Had Blagojevich been convicted on all counts, the former governor could have faced a maximum 415-year prison sentence and a $6 million fine. The greatest possible penalty for his conviction on the one count is five years in prison.

The former governor pleaded not guilty to all charges, including those related to alleged plans to profit from the filling of President Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. Prosecutors said Blagojevich tried to swap the seat for a sizeable campaign contribution or a lucrative job following his gubernatorial term.

Blagojevich also pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to use his power as governor to initiate a racketeering scheme. Blagojevich’s brother Robert Blogojevich, who in 2008 headed his campaign finance committee, was a co-defendant in four counts of the indictment. Jurors were also deadlocked on those four counts.

It comes as no surprise to Joy that prosecutors want to retry to the case over the deadlocked charges.

“Retrials usually help the prosecution more than the defense,” Joy says. “First, the prosecutors now know the defense’s case and strategy, and they can plan to present the government’s case better. Second, the cost of retrying a case hits the defense harder. Blagojevich has to find the money to pay his lawyers for a second trial. “

Joy, director of the WUSTL School of Law’s Criminal Justice Clinic, has written extensively about criminal justice issues, and co-authors an upcoming book, “Ethical Issues for Prosecution and Defense,” to be published by the American Bar Association.

For interviews, please contact Nancy Fowler Larson at (314) 935-5251, until Jessica Martin returns Sept. 7, 2010.

Expert contact information: Peter Joy, (314) 935-6445,

To upload a hi-res image of Joy, click here.