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08-1394

08-1394

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Published by Elizabeth Benjamin

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Published by: Elizabeth Benjamin on Jun 24, 2010
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1
(Slip Opinion)
OCTOBER TERM, 2009Syllabus
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as isbeing done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has beenprepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.See
United States
v.
 Detroit Timber & Lumber Co.,
200 U. S. 321, 337.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus
SKILLING
v
. UNITED STATES
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FORTHE FIFTH CIRCUITNo. 08–1394. Argued March 1, 2010—Decided June 24, 2010Founded in 1985, Enron Corporation grew from its headquarters inHouston, Texas, into the seventh highest-revenue-grossing companyin America. Petitioner Jeffrey Skilling, a longtime Enron officer, wasEnron’s chief executive officer from February until August 2001,when he resigned. Less than four months later, Enron crashed intobankruptcy, and its stock plummeted in value. After an investigationuncovered an elaborate conspiracy to prop up Enron’s stock prices byoverstating the company’s financial well-being, the Governmentprosecuted dozens of Enron employees who participated in thescheme. In time, the Government worked its way up the chain of command, indicting Skilling and two other top Enron executives.These three defendants, the indictment charged, engaged in a schemeto deceive investors about Enron’s true financial performance by ma-nipulating its publicly reported financial results and making falseand misleading statements. Count 1 of the indictment charged Skill-ing with,
inter alia,
conspiracy to commit “honest-services” wirefraud, 18 U. S. C. §§371, 1343, 1346, by depriving Enron and itsshareholders of the intangible right of his honest services. Skillingwas also charged with over 25 substantive counts of securities fraud,wire fraud, making false representations to Enron’s auditors, and in-sider trading.In November 2004, Skilling moved for a change of venue, contend-ing that hostility toward him in Houston, coupled with extensive pre-trial publicity, had poisoned potential jurors. He submitted hundredsof news reports detailing Enron’s downfall, as well as affidavits fromexperts he engaged portraying community attitudes in Houston incomparison to other potential venues. The District Court denied themotion, concluding that pretrial publicity did not warrant a presump-
 
2 SKILLING
v.
UNITED STATESSyllabustion that Skilling would be unable to obtain a fair trial in Houston.Despite incidents of intemperate commentary, the court observed,media coverage, on the whole, had been objective and unemotional,and the facts of the case were neither heinous nor sensational. More-over, the court asserted, effective
voir dire
would detect juror bias.In the months before the trial, the court asked the parties for ques-tions it might use to screen prospective jurors. Rejecting the Gov-ernment’s sparer inquiries in favor of Skilling’s more probing andspecific questions, the court converted Skilling’s submission, withslight modifications, into a 77-question, 14-page document. Thequestionnaire asked prospective jurors about their sources of newsand exposure to Enron-related publicity, beliefs concerning Enronand what caused its collapse, opinions regarding the defendants andtheir possible guilt or innocence, and relationships to the companyand to anyone affected by its demise. The court then mailed thequestionnaire to 400 prospective jurors and received responses fromnearly all of them. It granted hardship exemptions to about 90 indi-viduals, and the parties, with the court’s approval, further winnowedthe pool by excusing another 119 for cause, hardship, or physical dis-ability. The parties agreed to exclude, in particular, every prospec-tive juror who said that a preexisting opinion about Enron or the de-fendants would prevent her from being impartial.In December 2005, three weeks before the trial date, one of Skill-ing’s co-defendants, Richard Causey, pleaded guilty. Skilling re-newed his change-of-venue motion, arguing that the juror question-naires revealed pervasive bias and that news accounts of Causey’sguilty plea further tainted the jury pool. The court again declined tomove the trial, ruling that the questionnaires and
voir dire
providedsafeguards adequate to ensure an impartial jury. The court also de-nied Skilling’s request for attorney-led
voir dire
on the ground thatpotential jurors were more forthcoming with judges than with law-yers. But the court promised to give counsel an opportunity to askfollow-up questions, agreed that venire members should be examinedindividually about pretrial publicity, and allotted the defendants jointly two extra peremptory challenges.
Voirdire
began in January 2006. After questioning the venire as agroup, the court examined prospective jurors individually, askingeach about her exposure to Enron-related news, the content of anystories that stood out in her mind, and any questionnaire answersthat raised a red flag signaling possible bias. The court then permit-ted each side to pose follow-up questions and ruled on the parties’challenges for cause. Ultimately, the court qualified 38 prospective jurors, a number sufficient, allowing for peremptory challenges, toempanel 12 jurors and 4 alternates. After a 4-month trial, the jury
 
3Cite as: 561 U. S. ____ (2010)Syllabusfound Skilling guilty of 19 counts, including the honest-services-fraudconspiracy charge, and not guilty of 9 insider-trading counts.On appeal, Skilling raised two arguments relevant here. First, hecontended that pretrial publicity and community prejudice preventedhim from obtaining a fair trial. Second, he alleged that the jury im-properly convicted him of conspiracy to commit honest-services wirefraud. As to the former, the Fifth Circuit initially determined thatthe volume and negative tone of media coverage generated by Enron’scollapse created a presumption of juror prejudice. Stating, however,that the presumption is rebuttable, the court examined the
voir dire,
found it “proper and thorough,” and held that the District Court hadempaneled an impartial jury. The Court of Appeals also rejectedSkilling’s claim that his conduct did not indicate any conspiracy tocommit honest-services fraud. It did not address Skilling’s argumentthat the honest-services statute, if not interpreted to exclude his ac-tions, should be invalidated as unconstitutionally vague.
Held
:1. Pretrial publicity and community prejudice did not prevent Skill-ing from obtaining a fair trial. He did not establish that a presump-tion of juror prejudice arose or that actual bias infected the jury thattried him. Pp. 11–34.(a) The District Court did not err in denying Skilling’s requestsfor a venue transfer. Pp. 11–19.(1) Although the Sixth Amendment and Art. III, §2, cl. 3, pro-vide for criminal trials in the State and district where the crime wascommitted, these place-of-trial prescriptions do not impede transferof a proceeding to a different district if extraordinary local prejudicewill prevent a fair trial. Pp. 11–12.(2) The foundation precedent for the presumption of prejudicefrom which the Fifth Circuit’s analysis proceeded is
Rideau
v.
Louisi-ana
, 373 U. S. 723. Wilbert Rideau robbed a small-town bank, kid-naped three bank employees, and killed one of them. Police interro-gated Rideau in jail without counsel present and obtained hisconfession, which, without his knowledge, was filmed and televisedthree times to large local audiences shortly before trial. After theLouisiana trial court denied Rideau’s change-of-venue motion, he wasconvicted, and the conviction was upheld on direct appeal. ThisCourt reversed. “[T]o the tens of thousands of people who saw andheard it,” the Court explained, the interrogation “in a very real sense
was
Rideau’s trial—at which he pleaded guilty.”
Id.,
at 726.“[W]ithout pausing to examine . . . the
voir dire,
” the Court held thatthe “kangaroo court proceedings” trailing the televised confession vio-lated due process.
Id.,
at 726–727. The Court followed
Rideau
in twoother cases in which media coverage manifestly tainted criminal

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