Where substantiation of a conspiracy charge requires proof of an overt act, it must be shown both that the conspiracy still subsisted within the three years prior to the return of the indictment, and that at least one overt act in furtherance of the conspiratorial agreement was performed within that period. 18 U.S.C.S. § 3282. Hence, in both of these aspects, the crucial question in determining whether the statute of limitations has run is the scope of the conspiratorial agreement, for it is that which determines both the duration of the conspiracy, and whether the act relied on as an overt act may properly be regarded as in furtherance of the conspiracy.
Three defendants, an influence peddler, an officer of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and an attorney of taxpayers, were convicted under 18 USC 371 of conspiracy to defraud the United States by preventing prosecutions for income tax evasions. The attorney was also convicted of violating 18 USC 1503 by endeavoring corruptly to influence certain witnesses before the grand jury. The judgments of conviction entered by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York were affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, one of the judges dissenting (233 F2d 556).
Did the trial court err in convicting petitioners?
The court rejected the government's proposition that the duration of a conspiracy could be indefinitely lengthened merely because the conspiracy was kept a secret after the central criminal purpose had been accomplished. The court held that because the jury charge as given failed completely to distinguish between concealment in order to achieve the central purpose of the conspiracy and concealment intended solely to cover up an already executed crime, petitioners were entitled to a new trial. Additionally, the court found that the trial court erred in holding that the other petitioner's plea of the Fifth Amendment privilege before the grand jury involved such inconsistency with any of his trial testimony as to permit its use against him for impeachment purposes.