Tuesday, May 31, 2005
The Supreme Court unanimously overturned Arthur Andersen's obstruction of justice conviction this morning. The decision, which came down quickly, was widely expected after the drubbing the Government received across the board during oral arguments. The main legal fault was found in the jury instructions, which were overly broad, and virtually assured conviction. The trial court amended the jury instructions to allow conviction for simply impeding an investigation but the Supreme Court disagreed, in effect requiring some knowing interference with, as opposed to just "impeding" an investigation. Here, the mens rea element could not be shown when all the jury needed to find was any impediment, conscious or not. Now, while it is clear that the reversal does not necessarily mean that AA was innocent of obstruction, it is unfortunate that such a clearly flawed legal standard, one requiring virtually no consciousness of wrongdoing at all, was the means used to convict. Since AA had to surrender their license based on this conviction, their 28,000 employees were forced to search for new work, and their reputation went down the toilet, the company is no more. A legal victory, and perhaps an important point of clarification for companies facing future investigations, but a hollow victory indeed for Arthur Andersen. See Also ScotusBlog.