Could the state allowing gifts be enough to toss out McDonnell’s conviction?

WASHINGTON — Since Virginia allowed all gifts to state lawmakers until last year, The National Association of Criminal Defense lawyers argues in a brief submitted Friday that former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen should not have been prosecuted under federal law.

The group, which advocates for less wide-ranging criminal laws, also argues in the friend-of-the-court brief submitted to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that the trial judge’s definition of “official acts” that could lead to a bribery conviction was too vague.

The McDonnells’ lawyers made similar arguments before, during and after the trial to Judge James Spencer, but he rejected them. The couple was not charged with any crimes under state law.

The 4th Circuit ruled Bob McDonnell should remain out of prison until his appeal is heard this spring, signaling that a panel of judges believes there is a substantial issue that they must at least consider.

Virginia’s General Assembly passed new gift rules last year capping certain gifts at $250. This year, the General Assembly passed a bill that would cap each individual gift from a lobbyist or person seeking business with the state at $100, with a number of exceptions. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has not said whether he will sign the bill, or send it back to the General Assembly with amendments.

McDonnell’s appeal brief filed on Monday details other arguments the defense team has also made before, including that the members of the jury should have faced tougher questioning about issues like how much they had heard about the case in the media before they were selected.

The appeal also argues that other parts of the jury instructions were flawed, that the former governor and first lady should have been tried separately, and that there were certain mistakes regarding what evidence was and was not permitted at trial.

The lawyers argue the jury should have heard more about the immunity deal for Jonnie Williams, the supplement salesman who gave the McDonnells the $170,000 in gifts, loans and trips.

McDonnell’s lawyers are asking the appeals court to either throw out the charges completely or order a new trial.

Maureen McDonnell’s appeal is proceeding separately for now, since she was sentenced more than six weeks after her husband because one of her lawyers had a conflict with the initial Jan. 6 sentencing date.

Based on the appeals’ court decision in her husband’s case, the trial judge allowed her to remain out pending appeal too.

Bob McDonnell was sentenced to two years in prison, while Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to one year and one day. Both sentences are far below the federal sentencing guidelines.

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