Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Drug defendant must show withdrawal from conspiracy

A criminal defendant bears the burden of establishing the defense that he withdrew from a drug distribution conspiracy outside the statute of limitations, the Supreme Court held.

The decision affirmed a ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The opinion was one of two the court issued Wednesday. In the other, the high court threw out a challenge to Nike Inc.’s trademark on one of its athletic shoes, saying the case had become moot because Nike had agreed not to enforce its rights.

In the drug conspiracy case, defendant Calvin Smith and 16 other individuals were indicted in 2000 on conspiracy charges relating to a violent drug distribution ring that operated in Washington in the late 1980s and 1990s.

At trial, Smith contended that he could not be convicted because he withdrew from the conspiracy prior to the applicable five-year limitations period. The jury found him guilty after the district court instructed that “[o]nce the government has proven that a defendant was a member of a conspiracy, the burden is on the defendant to prove withdrawal from a conspiracy by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Smith argued that the instruction misstated the law and violated his due process rights.

The high court disagreed.

A “statute-of-limitations defense does not call the criminality of the defendant’s conduct into question, but rather reflects a policy judgment by the legislature that the lapse of time may render criminal acts ill suited for prosecution. Thus, although union of withdrawal with a statute-of-limitations defense can free the defendant of criminal liability, it does not place upon the prosecution a constitutional responsibility to prove that he did not withdraw,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the unanimous court. “As with other affirmative defenses, the burden is on him.”

The case is Smith v. U.S., No. 11-8976.

Lawyers USA is a sister publication of The Daily Record.