Smith v. United States
568 U.S. ___ (2013)

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Justia Opinion Summary
Smith claimed that drug conspiracy charges under 21 U. S. C.846 and 18 U. S. C. 1962(d), were barred by 18 U. S. C.3282’s five-year statute of limitations. The district court instructed the jury to convict Smith if the government had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the conspiracies existed, that Smith was a member, and that the conspiracies continued within the limitations period. As to the affirmative defense of withdrawal, the court instructed the jury that Smith had the burden to prove withdrawal outside the limitations period by a preponderance of the evidence. Smith was convicted. The D. C. Circuit and the Supreme Court affirmed. Allocating to the defendant the burden of proving withdrawal does not violate the Due Process Clause. 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 conspiracy but only terminates a defendant’s liability for co-conspirators’ post-withdrawal acts. Withdrawal that occurs beyond the limitations period provides a complete defense to prosecution, but that does not give the prosecution a constitutional responsibility to prove that he did not withdraw. Because the statutes do not address the burden of proof for withdrawal, it is presumed that the common law rule applies.. A conspiracy continues until it is terminated or, as to a particular defendant, until that defendant withdraws and the burden of establishing withdrawal rests upon the defendant.
  • Syllabus
  • Opinion (Antonin Scalia)

NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321 .

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Syllabus

SMITH v. UNITED STATES

certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the district of columbia circuit

No. 11–8976. Argued November 6, 2012—Decided January 9, 2013

Petitioner Smith claimed that conspiracy charges brought against him for his role in an illegal drug business, see 21 U. S. C. §846 and 18 U. S. C. §1962(d), were barred by 18 U. S. C. §3282’s 5-year statute of limitations. The District Court instructed the jury to convict Smith of each conspiracy count if the Government had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the conspiracies existed, that Smith was a member of those conspiracies, and that the conspiracies continued within the applicable statute-of-limitations period. As to the affirmative defense of withdrawal from the conspiracy, the court instructed the jury that once the Government proved that Smith was a member of the conspiracy, Smith had the burden to prove withdrawal outside the statute of limitations by a preponderance of the evidence. Smith was convicted, and the D. C. Circuit affirmed.

Held: A defendant bears the burden of proving a defense of withdrawal. Pp. 3–8.

     (a) Allocating to the defendant the burden of proving withdrawal does not violate the Due Process Clause. Unless an affirmative defense negates an element of the crime, the Government has no constitutional duty to overcome the defense beyond a reasonable doubt. See Dixon v. United States, 548 U. S. 1 . Withdrawal does not negate an element of the conspiracy crimes charged here, but instead presupposes that the defendant committed the offense. Withdrawal terminates a defendant’s liability for his co-conspirators’ postwithdrawal acts, but he remains guilty of conspiracy.

     Withdrawal that occurs beyond the statute-of-limitations period provides a complete defense to prosecution, but does not render the underlying conduct noncriminal. 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 he did not withdraw. As with other affirmative defenses, the burden is on him. Pp. 3–6.

     (b) Although Congress may assign the Government the burden of proving the nonexistence of withdrawal, it did not do so here. Because Congress did not address the burden of proof for withdrawal in 21 U. S. C. §846 or 18 U. S. C. §1962(d), it is presumed that Congress intended to preserve the common-law rule that affirmative defenses are for the defendant to prove. Dixon, supra, at 13–14. 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 period. A conspiracy continues until it is terminated or, as to a particular defendant, until that defendant withdraws. And the burden of establishing withdrawal rests upon the defendant. Pp. 6–8.

651 F. 3d 30, affirmed.

     Scalia, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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