Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Although the Supreme Court did not issue an opinion in the much awaited sentencing cases of Booker and Fanfan, it did rule in Whitfield v. United States. The Court held that a conspiracy to commit money laundering premised upon 18 U.S.C. 1956(h) does not require an overt act.
The key issue before the Court was whether to interpret the money laundering statute more like the general conspiracy statute or the drug conspiracy statutes. The Court distinguished the statute from 18 U.S.C. 371, the general conspiracy statute, which does require the government to prove an overt act. The unanimous decision written by Justice O'Connor found that 1956(h), the money laundering statute, was more like drug conspiracy statutes that do not require proof of an overt act as the language is "plain and unambiguous." "Because the text of s1956(h) does not expressly make the commission of an overt act an element of the conspiracy offense, the Government need not prove an overt act to obtain a conviction."
This decision sends a message to Congress that if they want an overt act required for a conspiracy, then they had better include explicit language in the statute requiring it.