Blog of Rights

Conspiracy to Commit...What Exactly?

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 9:48am
Adam Liptak at the Times on the Padilla verdict's legal angle.
The central charge against Mr. Padilla was that he conspired to murder, maim and kidnap people in a foreign country. The charge is a serious one, and it can carry a life sentence. But prosecutors needed to prove very little by way of concrete conduct to obtain a conviction under the law. “There is no need to show any particular violent crime,” said Robert M. Chesney, a law professor at Wake Forest University and the author of a recent law review article on conspiracy charges in terrorism prosecutions. “You don’t have to specify the particular means used to carry out the crime.” Indeed, the strongest piece of evidence in Mr. Padilla’s case was what prosecutors said was an application form Mr. Padilla filled out to attend a training camp run by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2000. “It is a pretty big leap between a mere indication of desire to attend a camp and a crystallized desire to kill, maim and kidnap,” said Peter S. Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University who has also written on conspiracy charges in terrorism prosecutions. The conspiracy charge against Mr. Padilla, Professor Margulies continued, “is highly amorphous, and it basically allows someone to be found guilty for something that is one step away from a thought crime.”
Help protect our fundamental freedoms. Donate to the ACLU.
Tags: Guantánamo
Statistics image