Stevens denies he's been convicted, despite guilty verdict

ANCHORAGE — At least three times since returning yesterday, Sen. Ted Stevens said he has not been convicted of anything.

So what did the jury do on Monday, when it found him guilty of seven federal felony counts? What exactly was Stevens arguing?

Legal experts Friday said Stevens is technically right - that he won't be considered "convicted" until he's sentenced. But from a practical standpoint, it's misleading to say there's no conviction, said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

"The senator's playing a semantics word game," she said.

"In everyday parlance in the criminal justice system, once the jury has reached a verdict, we generally say the defendant is convicted."

Democrats call Stevens' remarks dishonest, while supporters say that if he wins re-relection, the U.S. Senate would allow him to keep his seat until he's exhausted his appeals.

Stevens is trying to get the judge to call for a new trial, saying prosecutors botched the case. But that rarely happens before sentencing, legal experts said.

"Of course he's already convicted," said Stanford Law School Professor Robert Weisberg. "Because the chance of getting a conviction overturned in the very court in which you were convicted ... is close to zero."

After sentencing, Stevens will have a chance to appeal. It helps his case that the judge chastised prosecutors for not turning over evidence, Weisberg said.

Stevens told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner editorial board he hadn't been convicted yet. He said the same thing twice during a public television debate with his Democratic challenger, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.

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"I have a got a case pending against me, and probably the worst case of prosecutorial -- misconduct by the prosecutors -- that is known," he told the cameras.

Begich issued a statement this morning saying Stevens is in denial: "Senator Ted Stevens is not being honest with himself or the voters of Alaska and his mischaracterization of his conviction is outrageous.

"He was convicted of seven felonies, period."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that there was a "100 percent certainty" Stevens would be voted out of the Senate if he loses his appeal.

Bill Canfield, a lobbyist, former Stevens aide and Republican election lawyer, said the appeals process could take 18 months - during which Stevens could hold on to his seat.

That's assuming Stevens isn't sentenced to prison while he appeals the case.