Whitfield v. United States

PETITIONER:David Whitfield
RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:City of New London Town Hall

DOCKET NO.: 03-1293
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 543 US 209 (2005)
GRANTED: Jun 21, 2004
ARGUED: Nov 30, 2004
DECIDED: Jan 11, 2005

Jonathan L. Marcus – argued the cause for Respondent
Sharon C. Samek – argued the cause for Petitioners

Facts of the case

Federal district courts convicted David Whitfield and Haywood Hall of conspiracy to commit money laundering. They appealed and argued the federal money laundering law required the jury to have found proof of an “overt act” furthering the conspiracy. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected this argument, reasoning that the law lacked any language requiring proof of an overt act. Other federal appeals courts had ruled the law did require an overt act.


Did a conviction for conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), require proof of an overt act furthering the conspiracy?

Media for Whitfield v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 30, 2004 in Whitfield v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 11, 2005 in Whitfield v. United States

John Paul Stevens:

Justice O’Connor has an opinion to announce.

Sandra Day O’Connor:

We have two consolidated cases, Whitfield versus United States and Hall versus United States that come to us on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

In March 1999, a federal grand jury indicted the petitioners for conspiracy to launder money in violation of the 18 U.S. Code Section 1956(h).

At trial, the government presented evidence that the petitioners helped to run an entity known as Greater Ministries International Church, GMIC.

GMIC ran a gifting program that took in over $400 million between 1996 and 1999.

Under the program, the petitioners induced unweary investors to give money to GMIC promising that participants would receive double their money back within a year-and-a-half.

In the end, many investors received little or no return on their so-called investments to GMIC while the petitioners received over 1.2 million in commissions on the money they solicited.

At the close of evidence, petitioners asked the District Court to instruct the jury that the government had to prove that one of the conspirators had committed an overt act in furtherance of the money laundering conspiracy.

The District Court denied the request.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the petitioners’ convictions holding that the jury instruction approved by the District Court was proper because proof of an overt act is not required under Section 1956(h).

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm that decision.

We hold that conviction for conspiracy to commit money laundering under Section 1956(h) does not require of an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy.

The outcome is dictated by our decision over 10 years ago in United States versus Shabani where we held that the nearly identical language in the drug conspiracy statute does not require proof of an overt act.

As we explained in that case, the longstanding rule for conspiracy statutes is that unless Congress clearly says otherwise, we presume that it intends to adopt the common law definition of conspiracy.

At common law, conviction for conspiracy did not require proof of an overt act.

Proof of the unlawful agreement alone was enough.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

The opinion is unanimous.