Skilling v. United States

Facts of the Case

Prejudice due to pretrial publicity is not presumed, especially in a case in which jurors’ actions run counter to that presumption. A jury’s ability to discern a failure of proof of guilt of some of the alleged crimes indicates a fair minded consideration of the issues.


1) Does the Honest Services fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 1346, require the government to prove that defendant’s conduct was intended to achieve private gain, and, if not, is Section 1346 unconstitutionally vague?2) When the presumption of jury prejudice arises because of widespread community impact of the defendant’s alleged conduct and widespread inflammatory pretrial publicity, may the government rebut the presumption of prejudice, and, if so, must the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that no juror was actually prejudiced?


Not answered, Not answered. The Supreme Court held that pretrial publicity and community prejudice did not prevent Mr. Skilling from obtaining a fair trial. He did not establish that a presumption of juror prejudice arose or that actual bias infected the jury that tried him. With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing for the majority, the Court noted substantial differences between Mr. Skilling’s case and in those where a presumption of juror prejudice arose. Most notably, the Court recognized that Mr. Skilling’s trial took place in Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States, as opposed to a local hamlet where it would more difficult to weed out biased jurors. The Court also recognized that the jury that convicted Mr. Skilling acquitted him of nine other counts. The Court further held that Section 1346, which proscribes fraudulent deprivations of the intangible right of honest services, is properly confined to cover only bribery and kickback schemes. Here, Mr. Skilling’s alleged misconduct entailed no bribe or kickback, and thus did not fall within Section 1346’s coverage.Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy, concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. He agreed with the Court’s holding and reasoning as to Mr. Skilling’s jury impartiality challenge. He also agreed that the Fifth Circuit’s decision with respect to the honest services fraud claim warranted reversal, but on different grounds. He reasoned that Section 1346 is impermissibly vague and therefore violates the constitution. Justice Samuel A. Alito also concurred in part and concurred in the judgment. He clarified that his understanding of the impartial jury requirement dictated by the Sixth Amendment requires only that no biased juror is actually seated at trial. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen G. Breyer, concurred in part and dissented in part. She agreed with the Court’s resolution of the honest services fraud claim. However, she disagreed that Mr. Skilling received a fair trial considering the hostility that emerged in Houston after the collapse of Enron.

Case Information

  • Citation: 561 US 358 (2010)
  • Granted: Oct 13, 2009
  • Argued: Mar 1, 2010
  • Decided Jun 24, 2010