Criminal Law, Pages 502–503

United States v. Shabani

Supreme Court of the United States, 1994

Facts:

Defendant arranged to have drugs smuggled from California to Alaska and to have them distributed with the help of his girlfriend and her family and friends. The distributors sold cocaine to federal agents and were arrested.

Procedural History:

  • Defendant was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine after the District Court refused to instruct the jury that proof of an overt act in furtherance of a narcotics conspiracy is required for conviction.

  • Court of appeals reversed, holding that it must be proved that a defendant committed an overt act.

Issue:

Is an overt act required to be convicted of a narcotics conspiracy?

Reasoning:

The statute does not say that it requires an overt act. Absent such a requirement, the common law understanding should be applied, which does not require an overt act. This is unlike the general conspiracy statute, which does contain an explicit requirement that a conspirator "do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy." The difference in wording here shows that that is not required.

Rule/Holding:

No, an overt act is not required to be convicted of a narcotics conspiracy.

Judgment:

Court of appeals reversed.


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