November 6, 2012
Petitioner Calvin Smith was involved in a criminal drug distribution organization and imprisoned for a related murder in 1994. In 2000, a grand jury brought indictments against him. Smith defended his two conspiracy charges on the grounds that the statute of limitations barred his conviction because he had withdrawn from the conspiracy more than five years ago. The trial court directed the jury that the burden of proof was on Smith as defendant to prove withdrawal by a preponderance of the evidence. Smith claims his participation in the conspiracy during the statutory period is a necessary element of his crime that the government must prove. Additionally, since withdrawal and participation are mutually exclusive, his withdrawal would negate an essential element of the government's case against him. The United States argues that withdrawal is an affirmative defense, and the burden of proof lies with the defendant. This case will define the boundaries of Due Process Protection in conspiracy cases and similar cases involving amorphous and on-going criminal activity.
Whether withdrawing from a conspiracy prior to the statute of limitations period negates an element of a conspiracy charge such that, once a defendant meets his burden of production that he did so withdraw, the burden of persuasion rests with the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a member of the conspiracy during the relevant period -- a fundamental due process question that is the subject of a well-developed circuit split.
Whether requiring the defendant to bear the burden of proving withdrawal from a conspiracy as an affirmative defense violates Due Process.