Federal Cases on Jury Instructions on Conspiracy

In United States v. Gray (1980) 626 F.2d 494, 500, the trial court initially provided a correct instruction on conspiracy, but then added language to the instruction that told the jury that "the Government need only introduce slight evidence of a particular defendant's participation, once the conspiracy is established, but must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that each member had a knowing, special intent to join the conspiracy. Mere association with a conspirator, of course, is not enough." The court in Gray concluded that the trial court's "slight evidence" reference "can only be seen as suffocating the 'reasonable doubt' reference." (Ibid.) Similarly, in United States v. Hall (1976) 525 F.2d 1254, 1255, the trial court instructed the jury that " 'when a conspiracy has been established by competent proof, only slight evidence is necessary to connect a person with the conspiracy.' " The Hall court explained that although the trial court's instruction regarding "slight evidence" did "correctly describe the standard a court should use to determine whether the evidence against a particular defendant supports submission of his case to the jury, . . . the language should not be used in the charge to a jury." (Id. at pp. 1255-1256.)