John Edwards Not Guilty On One Count, Mistrial On Remaining Five Counts

The John Edwards trial is over. This should be the end of the matter.

The jury in the John Edwards case entered its 9th day of deliberations today with many people wondering if we might be reaching its end point. It had been several days since they had requested any additional evidence or re-read testimony from the Judge, and had requested that they be allowed to leave early tomorrow so that many of them could attend family graduations that would be taking place.  So, there was some anticipation that things would be wrapping up soon.

Then, things got weird.

Around mid-afternoon, the media was advised that the jury had reached a verdict, but by the time everyone had reassembled in the courtroom, it turned out that they had actually only reached unanimity on one count and could not reach a verdict on the other five. That in and of itself was a bizarre development, but it may have been the result of a miss-communication between the Court and the jury. In any event, when the Judge presiding over the trial realized that the jury had not fully decided the case, she read them a modified version of what is known among trial attorneys as an Allen Charge, which essentially directs a jury that claims to be deadlocked to make its best efforts to reach a final verdict as to all the matters before it. Within less than two hours after being read that charge, though, the case was over and John Edwards was essentially a free man:

Greensboro, North Carolina (CNN) – A federal jury in North Carolina acquitted former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards on one count of violating campaign finance law Thursday and deadlocked on the five other counts against him.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial on the remaining counts, leaving prosecutors to decide whether to refile the charges against the onetime North Carolina senator.

Jurors said Thursday afternoon — their ninth day of deliberations — that they had reached a unanimous verdict on only one count, which involved allegations that Edwards had accepted illegal campaign contributions in 2008. Eagles ordered them back into the jury room to continue deliberating, but they returned less than an hour later to announce they were deadlocked.

“This was win for John Edwards, and there will be a lot of questions about why this case was brought,” CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said after the announcement.

Edwards had been charged with four counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions, one count of falsifying documents and one of conspiring to receive and conceal the contributions. The charges could have carried a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $1.5 million fine.

Jurors last week asked to review all the exhibits, indicating they were in it for the long haul.

Prosecutors said Edwards “knowingly and willingly” accepted almost $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide former mistress Rielle Hunter and her pregnancy, then concealed the donations by filing false and misleading campaign disclosure reports.

Defense attorneys argued that Edwards was guilty of nothing but being a bad husband to his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 2010. They also argued that former Edwards aide Andrew Young used the money for his own gain and to pay for Hunter’s medical expenses to hide the affair from Edwards’ wife.

Neither Edwards nor Hunter testified during the trial. The affair occurred as Edwards was gearing up for a second White House bid in 2008, and he knew his political ambitions depended on keeping his affair with Hunter a secret, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon told jurors in closing arguments.

“There is no question it would destroy the campaign of John Edwards,” Higdon said.

This result isn’t entirely unexpected. I didn’t follow the Edwards trial on a regular basis, but from what I have followed over the past month it seemed fairly clear to me that the prosecution’s case was incredibly weak to say the least. As I noted in a post I wrote when the trial was just starting, the argument at the center of the prosecutions case was that the money that Edwards’s supporters were funneling to Rielle Hunter, none of which ever went through the Edwards campaign itself, was essentially a campaign donation because it was intended to suppress the story of Edwards having an affair and fathering a child so that his campaign would not be damaged. However, as the Editors of National Review, hardly people who are sympathetic to John Edwards politically, said in an editorial last month, that doesn’t mean it was or should be a crime:

The prosecution’s case is built upon a note from Mellon, who described herself as “furious” about the way in which Edwards was lampooned for his infamous $400 haircuts. “From now on,” she wrote, “all haircuts, etc., that are necessary and important for his campaign — please send the bills to me. . . . It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.” And she did indeed write some $725,000 in checks for sundry expenses — all of which went to Hunter, not to the Edwards campaign.

Because none of the money went to the campaign, and none of the money went for campaign expenses — inasmuch as maintaining a mistress is not a campaign expense — it is difficult to see why this should be prosecuted as a campaign-finance violation. At most, the evidence would seem to justify charging Mellon with conspiring to subvert campaign-finance laws, though in the event those laws were not subverted, since her money did not go toward financing the Edwards campaign.

(….)

Campaign-finance laws are a tricky business, because they put political incumbents in charge of setting the rules under which their positions and their power may be challenged. Such laws should be as transparent and straightforward as possible, and prosecutions under them should be undertaken with proper care. If Edwards et al. have committed other crimes, then they should be prosecuted, but to prosecute him under campaign-finance rules in a situation in which no campaign funds were used and no campaign expenses paid seems a stretch. We have had enough unseemliness associated with Edwards without adding a questionable prosecution to the catalog.

Indeed. In fact, I would argue that, had Edwards been convicted today, he would have had an excellent chance of having that conviction set aside on appeal.

Of course, the legal matters in this case are not over yet. There are still five outstanding counts that Edwards could theoretically be re-tried on. My personal opinion, given the way in which this trial unfolded, is that the Federal Government should decline to bring this case back before a jury. They had a trial that lasted more than a month, the jury deliberated for countless numbers of hours over the course of nine days, and they acquitted him on one charge and could not reach agreement on the others. There are plenty of adjectives that can be used to describe John Edwards, and I don’t think I need to repeat any of them here, but I just don’t see the need to put before yet another jury a case that most likely will end in deadlock the second time around.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    Well, we’ll have to see how this deadlocked–remember that Blago’s first trial was a mistrial because of one juror.

    I do think that they’re probably not going to re-do this. Weak case to start with, Edwards has been sufficiently spanked and is getting sent home with less money and no character–is there any real reason to drag this out any further?

  2. @grumpy realist:

    What Blago did was clearly illegal.

    The prosecution’s case against Edwards was/is built on a legal theory that is about as thin as a spider web

  3. Ron Beasley says:

    I think we can all agree that Edwards is a scumbag but even most of the FOX news legal eagles agreed that this case should never have happened.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    We need something short of criminal trials to deal with situations like this. Convene a focus group, tell them the story, and have Edwards publicly declared a douche nozzle.

  5. It perhaps doesn’t have the same impact as the Amish practice of shunning, but societal moral approbation is still a powerful force.

  6. michael reynolds says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    We could shun him except for the fact that according to his statement, God still needs some more help from John Edwards. Now that we should prosecute.

  7. LC says:

    Absolute waste of the government’s time and money – esp. when this year it will be perfectly legal for one person to contribute 1 billion, 2 billion, whatever to elect Romney.

  8. @michael reynolds:

    God to John Edwards: Dude, I got this.

  9. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: You know, he’s a smart guy who’s done some good in the past. He led a crappy personal life. Maybe he can make up for that by doing some more good for people.

    If a Republican senator did what Edwards did, he’d still be in office. If a Republican senator dressed in diapers and paid a whore to beat him, he’d still be representing Florida. But because Edwards is a Democrat, we all show how moral we are by shunning him forever.

    Screw that. The man has been saying for years he wants to help the poor — something no other politician in the country can be bothered with. If he actually does something along those lines, I’ll be cheering him on.

    But if you and Doug and the rest want to walk around with your noses in the air because you are all so morally pure, knock yourselves out.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    A colossal waste of federal taxpayer dollars and prosecutorial resources. The worst part about it is that all that was obvious from the get-go.

  11. Ron Beasley says:

    @WR: There is some truth to what you say but the minute someone like Edwards start talking about god it turns me off – Republican or Democrat.

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @WR:

    Dude, I am so morally impure I can’t even go into it. There are long stretches of my life that I am ashamed of and should probably have done time for. But then, I never held myself out as a possible leader of the Free World. I’m not looking down my nose, I’m looking at a peer and not buying his bullshit.

  13. rodney dill says:

    If a Republican […] did what Edwards did, he’d still be in office.

    Unless your name is Tom DeLay.

  14. grumpy realist says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Not “clearly illegal” to the one juror who was the hold-out in the first Blago trial….

    Part of the problem in the first trial was the prosecutors tried to cram everything in. Second trial everything was much more streamlined.

    That’s why I stated I’d like to see the breakdown on the jurors for Edwards. I doubt it’s just one “I don’t agree with the others” in this case. And yeah, it was a pretty wimpy case to start with.

  15. rodney dill says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Convene a focus group, tell them the story, and have Edwards publicly declared a douche nozzle.

    I thought that was the media’s job.

  16. Tillman says:

    @WR:

    The man has been saying for years he wants to help the poor — something no other politician in the country can be bothered with.

    Hilariously, his rhetoric in ’08 puts him ahead of Occupy by several years. He’ll probably go work for the Southern Poverty Law Center or some such.

    Also, the comparison to sitting Republican senators is off since Edwards hasn’t been a sitting senator since ’04.

  17. WR says:

    @Ron Beasley: I’m with you on the God thing…

  18. Fiona says:

    Hopefully, the government won’t waste anymore money trying this case a second time around. Edwards has been tried in the court of public opinion and found wanting. Hard to live down cheating on your terminally ill wife and fathering a child with the mistress.

  19. al-Ameda says:

    A waste of federal judicial resources. But then again we just went through the Barry Bonds multi-million dollar waste extravaganza, and we will soon conclude the Roger Clemens multi-million dollar throwaway.

  20. mattb says:

    @WR: Like many, I hope that Edwards continues to work on poverty issues. I also hope he never tries to run for office again.

    But before giving him a pass using the “if he was a Republican he’d still be in office” line, let me point out two things:

    1. Why shouldn’t we hold people on “our side” to a higher standard?

    2. Far more importantly: this guy made a serious run for president while actively having this affair. Good god, what would have happened if he had gotten the nomination and this had gotten out. Can you imagine any scenario in which he would have gotten elected?

    Having the affair made him an a-hole. Running for president while having an active affair was flat out irresponsible. Imagine if it had led to us having to hear the following news lead in on a regular basis: “In other news, today Vice President Palin…”