United States v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10 (1994)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 93-981. Argued October 3, 1994—Decided November 1, 1994

Respondent Shabani was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in violation of 21 U. S. C. 846 after the District Court refused to instruct the jury that proof of an overt act in furtherance of a narcotics conspiracy is required for conviction under 846. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under its precedent, the Government must prove at trial that a defendant has committed such an overt act.

Held: In order to establish a violation of 846, the Government need not prove the commission of any overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy. The statute's plain language does not require an overt act, and such a requirement has not been inferred from congressional silence in other conspiracy statutes, see, e. g., Nash v. United States, 229 U. S. 373. Thus, absent contrary indications, it is presumed that Congress intended to adopt the common law definition of conspiracy, which "does not make the doing of any act other than the act of conspiring a condition of liability," id., at 378. Moreover, since the general conspiracy statute and the conspiracy provision of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 both require an overt act, it appears that Congress' choice in 846 was quite deliberate. United States v. Felix, 503 U. S. 378, distinguished. While Shabani correctly asserts that the law does not punish criminal thoughts, in a criminal conspiracy the criminal agreement itself is the actus reus. The rule of lenity cannot be invoked here, since the statute is not ambiguous. Pp. 13-17.

993 F. 2d 1419, reversed.

O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Richard H. Seamon argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Days, Assistant Attorney General Harris, and Joseph Douglas Wilson.

Dennis P. Riordan argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Alan M. Caplan and Marc J. Zilversmit.

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