The US Supreme Court [official website] on Monday granted certiorari [order list, PDF] in Smith v. United States [docket], which deals with the burden of proof in conspiracy cases. The case involves two individuals who have been sentenced to life in prison for their connections to a large drug ring which has been tied to several murders. The government alleged that the two were members of the drug ring and involved in an ongoing conspiracy to commit a number of crimes with the group. At issue is a jury instruction that allowed jurors to assume that the defendants did not abandon the conspiracy unless the defendants positively demonstrated that this was the case. The jurors convicted the defendants based on the fact that they had been members of the group during a time that was barred by statute of limitations. Because the defendants did not offer sufficient evidence to refute their ongoing participation in the conspiracy, their ongoing participation leading up to the permitted statutory period was assumed. On appeal, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held [decision, PDF] that once the prosecution had proven that the defendants were a part of the conspiracy, the defendants must positively establish that they left the conspiracy.
The court also invited the Solicitor General to file briefs stating the view of the US government in two cases: Hillman v. Maretta [docket; cert. petition], a case of whether a state law directing insurance funds to be delivered to a particular person is preempted by a federal law allowing the funds to be delivered to someone else, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, Inc. v. Fossen [docket; cert petition], a case of whether a federal insurance law can be enforced through state-enacted remedies.