Smith v. United States

The Facts

The defendant, Smith, who petitioned with the US Supreme Court, was convicted of conspiracy in an illegal drug business. He was a member of the conspiracies which continued within the applicable statute-of-limitations period.

Procedural History

The US Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


18 U.S.C.S. § 1962(d) makes unlawful violation the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (the Act) as of criminal conspiracy.  The Act refers to any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity. Conspiracy is carried out when two or more people agreed to commit a crime covered by the specific conspiracy statute. To convict a person of conspiracy it must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he/she knowingly and willfully participated in the agreement. Since conspiracy is a continuing offense, a defendant who has joined a conspiracy continues to violate the law through every moment of the conspiracy’s existence. Even though a person does not participate in committing criminal act due to earlier withdrawal, the act of conspiracy is thought to be accomplished. It means that withdrawal terminates the defendant’s liability for post-withdrawal acts of his co-conspirators, but he remains guilty of conspiracy.

21 U.S.C.S. § 846 and 18 U.S.C.S. § 1962(d) do not contain their own limitations periods, but are governed by 18 U.S.C.S. § 3282(a), which provides that, except as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense, not capital, unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within five years next after such offense shall have been committed.

The common-law rule: affirmative defenses were matters for the defendant to prove.

The Issue

(a) Whether the initial trial court paid due regard to all factual circumstances before charging the defendant for conspiracy in illegal drug business; and (b) whether burden of proving withdrawal rests firmly on petitioner.

The Holding/Reasoning

Passive non-participation in a continuing scheme does not negate the meeting of minds peculiar to conspiracy. To avert a continuing criminal activity there must be affirmative action of defendant to defeat the purpose of conspiracy and to dissociate from his confederates.

“Establishing individual withdrawal was a burden that rested firmly on petitioner regardless of when the purported withdrawal took place. Allocating to petitioner the burden of proving withdrawal did not violate the Due Process Clause, as the defense of withdrawal did not negate an element of the charged conspiracy crimes.” The Supreme court held further that “the State is foreclosed from shifting the burden of proof to the defendant only when an affirmative defense does negate an element of the crime… It would be nearly impossible for the government to prove the negative that an act of withdrawal never happened”.

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