Smith v. United States

PETITIONER: Calvin Smith, et al.
RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court for the District of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 11-8976
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 568 US (2013)
GRANTED: Jun 18, 2012
ARGUED: Nov 06, 2012
DECIDED: Jan 09, 2013

A. J. Kramer - for the petitioners
Sarah E. Harrington - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent

Facts of the case

Calvin Smith and John Raynor, along with four others, were tried together and convicted on multiple charges including drug conspiracy and RICO act violations. The defendants filed motions for a new trial on various grounds, including that the leaders of the conspiracy, Rodney Moore and Kevin Gray, split up before the relevant statute of limitations period. Because of this, the jury did not have sufficient evidence to prove that all defendants were part of a single conspiracy. The defendants argued that the government had the burden to prove that the conspiracy continued into the valid statute of limitations period. The court denied the motions. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed.


Does withdrawing from a conspiracy prior to the statute of limitations period put the burden of persuasion on the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was a member of the conspiracy during the relevant period?

Media for Smith v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 06, 2012 in Smith v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 09, 2013 in Smith v. United States

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has the opinion of the Court this morning in case 11-8976, Smith versus United States.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The petitioner, Smith, was indicted for crimes connected to his role in an organization that distributed illegal drugs in Washington, D.C. for about a decade.

Among other things, he was charged with two conspiracy crimes.

One, conspiracy to distribute narcotics and to poses narcotics with the intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. Section 846.

And two, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to conspiracy, RICO, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1962(d).

At trial, Smith argued that the conspiracy counts were barred by the applicable five-year statute of limitations which is 18 U.S.C. Section 3282 because he was no longer a member of the conspiracy on the earliest date as to which that statute permitted prosecution.

The Court instructed the jury that “the relevant date for purposes of determining the statute of limitations is the date, if any, on which a conspiracy concludes or a date on which that defendant withdrew from that conspiracy.”

Over the defense's objection, the Court also instructed the jury that “once the government has proven that a defendant was a member of a conspiracy, the burden is on the defendant to prove withdrawal from a conspiracy by a preponderance of the evidence.”

The jury convicted Smith of the conspiracy counts and the D.C. Circuit affirmed those convictions, we granted certiorari, and today, affirmed the D.C. Circuits' judgment.

Petitioner asserts that once he presented some evidence that he ended his membership in the conspiracy, prior to the statute of limitations cut off, it became the government's burden to disprove his affirmative defense of withdrawal.

This position draws support neither from the Constitution nor from the conspiracy and limitations statutes at issue here.

Allocating to the defendant, the burden of proving withdrawal, does not violate the Due Process Clause.

Our precedent established that unless an affirmative defense negates an element of the crime, the government has no constitutional duty to overcome the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Withdrawal does not negate an element of the conspiracy crimes charged here, it terminates a defendant's liability for his co-conspirators' post-withdrawal acts but he remains guilty of conspiracy.

Moreover, withdrawal that occurs before the earliest date on which the statute of limitations permits prosecution does not render the underlying conduct non-criminal but merely non-prosecutable.

Thus, while union of withdrawal with a statute of limitations defense can free a defendant of criminal liability, it does not place upon the prosecution a constitutional responsibility to prove that the defendant did not withdraw.

As with other affirmative defenses, the burden is on him.

Of course even though the constitution does not place the burden on the prosecution, Congress may do so by statute.

It did not do so here.

Neither conspiracy statute at issue addresses the burden of proof for withdrawal, so it is presumed that the common law rule subsists.

Affirmative defenses are for the defendant to prove.

The analysis does not change when withdrawal is the basis for a statute of limitations defense.

In that circumstance, the government need only prove that the conspiracy continued past the statute of limitations cut off.

The burden of establishing withdrawal before that cut off rests upon the defendant.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed.

The Court's decision is unanimous.