Court Vacates Conviction of Dead NY Senator

MANHATTAN (CN) – Vacating the conviction of a former New York state senator who died while his appeal was pending, the Second Circuit said the government must return the $50,000 fine. 

Before a federal jury convicted him in 2015 of lying to the FBI, Thomas Libous had spent more than a quarter of a century in the New York Senate and was its second-ranking Republican.

Libous was re-elected to his 14th term in 2014 despite facing charges that he misled agents who were investigating whether corruption had won Libous’ son a job at a politically connected law firm.

The son, Matthew Libous, was ultimately given a six-month prison sentence for tax fraud, while former Sen. Libous was given a sentence of house arrest because he was dying of cancer.

After the former senator filed his notice of appeal, but before he could file his brief with the Second Circuit, he died in May 2016.

The Manhattan-based federal appeals court cited the doctrine of abatement ab initio Tuesday in finding that the Libous’ death requires that his conviction be vacated.

A court in Massachusetts just cited the same doctrine weeks earlier in vacating the murder conviction of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez.

Because the conviction has been vacated, the federal government is also not entitled to keep the $50,000 fine levied against Libous, according to the ruling.

“There is no legal basis on which the state can retain a fine exacted from Libous as punishment for an offense he is now presumed not to have committed,” Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Robert Katzmann wrote for a three-judge panel.

Katzmann rejected the government’s claim “that abating the fine would be tantamount to determining that Libous’s punishment was illegitimate.”

“Not so,” the 12-page opinion states. “Abating the fine does not reflect a determination that Libous was wrongfully punished, just as abating his conviction does not reflect a determination that the conviction was wrongfully obtained.”

Frances Libous, the former senator’s wife, was represented by Paul DerOhannesian II with DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian in Albany.

“We are very pleased with the Second Circuit’s decision to vacate the conviction of my client, Mr. Libous,” DerOhannesian II said in an email. “Though he was gravely ill at the time, Tom wanted to move forward with the appeal not just to clear his name but to help others who may face similar charges and punishment stemming from the statute Mr. Libous was tried under.  Had he lived to pursue his appeal, I am confident the conviction would eventually have been overturned.”

Representatives at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan declined to comment.

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