Supreme Court: Defendant has Burden to Prove Withdrawal

In the recent case of Smith v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a Defendant charged with criminal conspiracy carries the burden to prove withdrawal from the conspiracy.

Courts in the First, Third, Fourth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits have held that the Due Process Clause requires the government to go an extra step and prove the absence of a withdrawal of the Defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.  This ruling from the Supreme Court overturns all of these rulings.

The decision has the effect of placing on the Defendant the burden to prove he or she withdrew from the conspiracy.  Why?  The Court explains: “Far from contradicting an element of the offense, withdrawal presupposes that the defendant committed the offense.”  Thus, withdrawal becomes once again a pure affirmative defense.

The Court reasons ultimately defendant is in the best position to prove the steps he took to end his relationship with his confederates, whereas it would be “nearly impossible for the Government to prove the negative that an act of withdrawal never happened.”

If you have been charged with conspiracy, the lawyers at Winslow & McCurry, PLLC are ready to assist.