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Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Section 1956(h) Conspiracy Does Not Require Overt Act

In Whitfield v. U.S., No. 03-1293 (Jan. 11, 2005), the Supreme Court held that proof of a conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h) does not require proof of an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. The Court noted its rule of statutory construction for conspiracy statutes, which provides that a conspiracy statute will not be interpreted to make an overt act an element of the offense unless the statute expressly provides such a requirement. The money laundering statute at issue, like the drug conspiracy statute in U.S. v. Shabani, 513 U.S. 10 (1994), did not contain an express overt act element. Hence, no overt act element would be required to prove the offense. The Court rejected the argument that § 1956(h) did not create a separate offense, but merely increased the penalties for a traditional 18 U.S.C. § 371 conspiracy to money launder – an offense which did contain an overt act element. The Court found that the plain language of § 1956(h) showed that it established an offense. Moreover, the legislative history was consistent with this interpretation. Finally, the Court rejected an argument based on the venue provision of the law, finding that by allowing venue to lie in any district in which an overt act was committed in furtherance of the conspiracy Congress did not make an overt act an element of the offense.