U.S. v Rigas

In 2004, former Adelphia Communications executives John and Timothy Rigas were convicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York for conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud in connection with securities offerings by Adelphia. Later, Federal prosecutors for the Middle District of Pennsylvania filed a second indictment that charged the pair with conspiring to commit tax fraud. When examining the Pennsylvania and New York indictments, Dilworth attorneys found substantial overlap in the descriptions of the conspiracy charged in both cases, violating the Sixth Amendment “Double Jeopardy” clause.

Dilworth moved to dismiss the second indictment in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania but the motion was denied. The Rigases then appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, arguing that the alleged conspiracy cited in the Pennsylvania case was the same conspiracy that was the basis for the New York conviction. Dilworth handled the appeal.

In a 2-1 panel decision, the Third Circuit ruled that the trial judge in the Pennsylvania case incorrectly rejected the argument that the conspiracy charge amounted to double jeopardy. The government, dissatisfied with the ruling, requested that the appeal be re-heard “en banc,” in front of all judges of the Third Circuit.

Once again Dilworth argued the case en banc.  And once again, the Third Circuit, in a precedential opinion, ruled in favor of the Rigases with seven of the sitting 11 judges concluding that the general federal conspiracy statute creates a single statutory offense, not two as the government had argued, and noting that there was a strong inference that the Rigases were being charged a second time for the single offense.

The decision by the Third Circuit court is sure to have far-reaching implications. Attorneys for generations to come will cite the court’s double jeopardy ruling in the context of the general conspiracy statute as a persuasive argument against multiple conspiracy indictments. As for the Rigases, the government voluntarily dismissed the entire Pennsylvania indictment after the remand from the Third Circuit.