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Supreme Court Rules that No Action is Required to Prove Drug Conspiracy


November 1994

In the first opinion issued in the 1994-95 term, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld a lower court's conviction of a man under the federal drug conspiracy law although he never acted on the alleged conspiracy ("Drug Conspiracy by Itself Can Support Conviction, Court Holds," Drug Enforcement Report, Nov. 8, 1994, p. 3).

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the court in U.S. v. Shabani (U.S. Sup.Ct., No. 93-981, Nov. 1, 1994), drew a distinction between the general conspiracy act (18 U.S.C. 371), which requires action on the conspiracy, and the drug conspiracy act (21 U.S.C. 846), which does not. "Congress appears to have made the choice quite deliberately," she wrote.

Reshat Shabani had arranged a transport of drugs from California to Alaska. In a sting operation federal agents bought drugs from distributors who were part of the conspiracy. Shabani was convicted under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 and was sentenced to 160 months in prison.

Shabani had argued that action on the conspiracy was vital to committing the offense and that his conviction punishes his thought instead of his action.

The court disagreed. "Shabani reminds us that the law does not punish criminal thoughts and contends that conspiracy without an overt act is predominately mental in composition," O'Connor wrote.