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A criminal conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime. To obtain a criminal conviction for conspiracy under 21 U.S.C.S. § 846, the government must establish the existence of an agreement between two or more individuals, with the intent to commit an offense in violation of the Controlled Substance Act. Once the existence of a conspiracy has been established, the government may connect a defendant to the conspiracy if there is substantial evidence that the defendant both knew of the conspiratorial agreement and intended to join its criminal purpose.
An undercover drug investigation named "Operation Adobe" targeted the distribution of large quantities of marijuana coming out of Tucson, Arizona for delivery and distribution into the Quad Cities areas of Illinois. As a result of the investigation, defendant Marty Sax was indicted along with several others. Following a jury trial, Sax was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841, and two counts of money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). At sentencing, the district court calculated Sax’s base offense level at 37. This, in conjunction with Sax’s Criminal History Category of I, gave Sax a Guidelines sentencing range between 210 and 262 months. The government requested that the district court impose a four-level adjustment under U.S.S.G. § 3B1.1(a) based on Sax's role in the offense, and a two-level upward adjustment under U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 based on Sax's attempts to obstruct justice. The district court denied the government's requests, giving only a three-level increase under § 3B1.1(b), and sentenced Sax to 210 months in prison. Sax appealed, challenging the jury instructions on money laundering, and further alleging that there was insufficient evidence to support his conspiracy conviction. According to Sax, the government failed to prove a conspiracy among Sax and the other defendants; instead, Sax claimed that the government's evidence, at best, demonstrated a buyer-seller relationship between Sax and the various defendants, which, by itself, was not enough to establish the existence of a conspiracy. The government cross-appealed, claiming that the district court erred in denying the additional upward adjustments to Sax's sentence.
The Court affirmed the convictions, holding that the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find involvement in a conspiracy, that it correctly concluded that Sax had not renounced the conspiracy's purpose and thus prosecution was not barred by limitations, that he failed to demonstrate prejudice in the jury instruction, and that the government demonstrated by a preponderance of evidence that venue for the money laundering charge was proper. The Court affirmed the finding that Sax was not an organizer or leader for purposes of a § 3B1.1(a) enhancement, but vacated the failure to enhance under § 3C1.1, holding that the district court clearly erred in interpreting what constituted the "instant offense" to which the enhancement should be applied.