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Right to Honest Services: 18 USC 1346


I just saw that the print edition of the National Law Journal has a cover story about 18 USC 1346:

DOJ may rein in use of ‘honest services’ statute: Fraud statute up for review was key to many convictions, by Lynne Marek, June 15, 2009

I can write 18 USC 1346 without even looking at the article. In fact, you could nudge me awake in the 17th hour of an 18-hour flight and whisper “right to honest services” in my ear and I’d mumble 18 USC 1346 without hesitation – and then go right back to sleep. (I know. Very sad.)

I “met18 USC 1346 back when I was a very, very new law librarian and worked with law professors and attorneys who were present at the birth of this statute and its annotations numbered fewer than half a dozen. Heady days! (These were the heady days of DOS and CoSy and Telnet too, to give you some, ah, perspective.)

Along with the Privacy Act of 1974, 18 USC 1346 was a statute I used more than any other when teaching federal statutory research. Back then in the 1980’s and 90’s I would tell students, keep an eye on these statutes (not that there weren’t others equally portentous).

My legal research adventures are much less heady now, but I still wonder, especially when reading news of Congress and the Courts: whatever happened to rights to honest services, thefts of intangibles, and other legal puzzles? Apparently, quite a bit, so maybe I need to catch up.

The entire text of 18 USC 1346 reads: Definition of “scheme or artifice to defraud” For the purposes of this chapter, the term “scheme or artifice to defraud” includes a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right of honest services.”

A lot of room for interpretation in them thar words.