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Q&A on Blagojevich: What happens after appeals court ruling

FILE - This March 14, 2012 file photo shows former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich autographing a 'Free Gov. Blago' sign for one of his supporters at his home in Chicago the day before Blagojevich was due to report to prison to begin serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, tossed out some of Blagojevich's convictions that he sought to sell or trade President Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — A ruling by a federal court in the appeal of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption convictions left open the possibility that the Democrat could serve less time than the 14-year sentence a judge imposed in 2011.

Here’s a look at some key conclusions in the ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and what could happen next:

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WHAT ARE THE MAIN FINDINGS?

Tuesday’s ruling by a three-judge panel dismissed five counts against Blagojevich, tossing ones linked to his bid to secure a Cabinet post in President Barack Obama’s administration in exchange for appointing an Obama adviser to the president’s former U.S. Senate seat. Among the 13 counts upheld are several based on his offer to appoint someone to the seat in exchange for campaign cash. The other upheld counts include attempted extortion for trying to shake down the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for a campaign contribution.

Because of complex federal algebra used to calculate appropriate prison terms can change even when only a handful of convictions are overturned, the 7th Circuit judges also ordered that Blagojevich be resentenced. That means he will likely be brought from his Colorado prison by U.S. marshals to again face his trial judge, U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

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WHAT WILL HIS NEW SENTENCE BE?

Zagel could reduce Blagojevich’s prison term by several years; he could also impose the same sentence.

At Blagojevich’s 2011 sentencing, Zagel scolded Blagojevich, saying, “When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured.” He then handed Blagojevich one of the longest corruption sentences ever imposed in Illinois.

But the appellate court suggested the 14-year sentence wasn’t necessarily extreme — even if you leave out the newly tossed convictions. The court even suggested Zagel might have been too soft. They noted, for instance, that Zagel gave Blagojevich credit for supposedly taking responsibility for his crime. Yet Blagojevich’s constant denials of wrongdoing before and after his trials were, in fact, “the antithesis of accepting responsibility,” the court said.

No date has been set for the resentencing.

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WHERE IS THE LINE BETWEEN LEGAL AND ILLEGAL WHEELING AND DEALING?

Apparently you need to follow the money.

The court said Blagojevich was within the law when he suggested appointing Obama’s adviser to the Senate if Obama would give Blagojevich a Cabinet post. However, the court concluded that Blagojevich’s attempts to trade the Senate seat for campaign cash were illegal.

University of Illinois at Chicago professor Dick Simpson, who studies political corruption, said that’s significant.

“There are still going to be cases where politicians appoint people who are supporters and friends,” he said. “If money is involved, it would still be corrupt.”

But Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice as a criminal defense attorney, said the court should have overturned Blagojevich’s conviction completely. Turner, who was not involved in the Blagojevich case, said the court “had to jump through a lot of hoops and do a lot of hair splitting” to distinguish between what they said was illegal behavior and what is typical political behavior.

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WHAT CAN PROSECUTORS DO ABOUT THE DROPPED COUNTS?

One option is to retry Blagojevich on those counts. But prosecutors often decline to retry a case if most counts are upheld. The government has already tried Blagojevich twice on roughly the same charges, and many observers would likely question resources spent on a third Blagojevich trial.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago hasn’t said what it plans to do.

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WHAT ABOUT APPEALS?

Findings by the 7th Circuit could eventually be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Either side may have complaints about the appellate court’s ruling, but Blagojevich would appear to have the larger grievance. Another option is for Blagojevich to ask the full 7th Circuit Court to rehear arguments that the three judges — for the most part — rejected. Such requests must be made within two weeks and aren’t granted automatically.

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Associated Press writers Tammy Webber, Don Babwin, Sophia Tareen, Herbert McCann and Sara Burnett contributed to this report.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

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