The U.S. Justice system does not promise defendants a perfect trial, only a fair one. Rod Blagojevich and his attorneys insist he got neither.
“After telling Blagojevich that he would be permitted to testify that he honestly believed that what he was doing was legal….the court changed its mind,” the former governor’s attorneys write in his appeal. It was a change which they said, left Blagojevich “without a defense and looking foolish” on the stand.
“You know, the central issue in the case is what is the line between politics, and a crime,” said attorney Len Goodman, who wrote the appeal motion with trial attorney Lauren Kaeseberg. “He’s never alleged that he was confused by the law or that he was ignorant of the law. He knew the law!”
Blagojevich argues in his motion that he never engaged in anything that he believed was illegal.
“The government never established that an arms-length deal between two politicians to make political appointments is a federal crime,” the lawyers wrote. “The political deal proposed by Blagojevich was a proper and common exchange under our democratic system of government.”
Indeed, one of the major points of the former governor’s appeal, is a contention that Blagojevich was denied the right to present a “good faith” defense.
“Good faith is a proper defense ‘in cases in which the government must prove some form of “specific intent”, such as intent to defraud,’” the attorneys write. “Prior to trial and again during jury selection, the court said that, should Blagojevich testify, he may say ‘I looked at the law and I thought it was legal.’”
But when he took the stand, they note, Judge James Zagel told Blagojevich he could not present such an argument.
“This ruling was an abuse of discretion, and it denied the defendant his right to present a defense guaranteed by the Fifth and Sixth amendment.”
Not everyone agrees that Blagojevich has a slam dunk argument.
“Any appeal in a criminal case is really a steep uphill battle,” says former prosecutor Ron Safer. “In this case, it is perhaps even steeper, because there was a tremendous amount of evidence offered against him.”
Safer argues that the former governor did not have a blank check to do what he wanted, shielded in the belief that it was legal.
“Ignorance of the law is not an excuse,” he said. “The fact that you do something illegal, but didn’t intend to do something illegal is not an excuse.”
Still, the government argued that the court demonstrated perceiveable bias for the prosecution, ruling against Blagojevich repeatedly, especially on matters which would have demonstrated his innocence.
“There were lots of (undercover) tapes which corroborated Blagojevich’s testimony,” they wrote. “But the government had persuaded the court to exclude them all.”
Federal prosecutors have a month to respond to the appellate motion. Arguments before the court are expected this fall.
The deadline to appeal Blagojevich's corruption conviction already has been pushed back several times. Attorney Lauren Kaeseberg told the Associated Press the appeal will be filed in Chicago's 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals but declined to comment on its contents.
Jurors convicted Blagojevich on 18 counts in 2011, including charges that he tried to sell or trade President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat. He reported to a Colorado federal prison on March 15, 2012.
Kaeseberg said in March the former governor has found a variety of ways to occupy his free time, including teaching Civil War history, learning to play the guitar and keeping a journal.
"He's been doing a lot of reading. He's actually, you know, been sort of tinkering with different musical instruments with other inmates," she said.
Blagojevich's scheduled release date is May 23, 2024. If he stays in prison until then, he'd be 67 years old upon release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.