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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Shabani - 513 U.S. 10, 115 S. Ct. 382 (1994)


In order to establish a violation of 21 U.S.C.S. § 846, the Government need not prove the commission of any overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy. 


Defendant Reshat Shabani was charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846, the federal drug conspiracy statute. At trial in federal district court, Shabani filed a motion to dismiss the indictment on the ground that: (1) the commission of an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy was an essential element of the offense charged, and; (2) the indictment did not allege that Shabani had committed such an act. The district court denied the motion and later denied Shabani's request to instruct the jury that proof of an overt act was required for conviction. Shabani was convicted under § 846. On Shabani's appeal, the court of appeals reversed, holding that although an indictment under § 846 did not need to allege an overt act, the prosecution was required to prove such an act at trial. The Government was granted a writ of certiorari.


Was proof that a conspirator committed an overt act in furtherance of a conspiracy required in order to establish a violation of the federal drug conspiracy statute?




The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the court of appeals' decision. The Court held that in order to establish a violation of § 846, the prosecution need not prove that a conspirator committed any overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy, since: (1) the plain language of § 846 did not require an overt act; (2) such a requirement had not been inferred from congressional silence in other conspiracy statutes, and; (3) the fact that the general federal conspiracy statute and the conspiracy provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970—which provision was enacted by the same Congress that passed § 846—contain an explicit overt-act requirement indicated that Congress deliberately chose not to include such a requirement in § 846. The Court further held that the rule of lenity was not applicable in construing § 846 because that rule applied only when a statute was ambiguous, and § 846 was not ambiguous.

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