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Smith v. United States

Summarized by: 

Date Filed: January 9, 2013
Case #: 11-8976
Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the unanimous Court.
Full Text Opinion: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/11-8976_k5fl.pdf

Criminal Law: A defendant—not the government—has the burden of proving withdrawal from a conspiracy.

After being convicted on multiple counts of conspiracy, Petitioner appealed to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and argued that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that he—rather than the government—bore the burden of proof to show that he had withdrawn from the conspiracy prior to the relevant statute of limitations period. Petitioner asserted that due process required the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a member of the conspiracy. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and held that Petitioner had the burden of proving that he affirmatively withdrew from the conspiracy.

The sole issue before the court was whether the defendant bears the burden of proving withdrawal from a conspiracy or whether the burden shifts to the government once the defendant meets the burden of production to show withdrawal from the conspiracy.

The Supreme Court held that the defendant bears the burden of proving a defense of withdrawal. This decision preserves the common-law rule that affirmative defenses are for the defendant to prove and does not violate the Due Process Clause because the Government only has a constitutional duty to overcome an affirmative defense that negatives an element of the crime—which withdrawal does not do.