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Case Basics
Docket No. 
United States
(Argued the cause for the petitioner)
(Department of Justice, argued the cause for the respondent)
Facts of the Case 

A federal criminal statute, 21 U.S.C. section 848(a), proscribes any person from engaging in "continuing criminal enterprise (CCE)," which is defined as involving a violation of federal drug statutes where such a violation was part of a "continuing series of violations." Eddie Richardson, who had organized and managed the Chicago street gang called the Undertaker Vice Lords in order to sell drugs, was charge with a CCE violation. At trial, Richardson proposed to instruct the jury that it must unanimously agree not only that he committed some "continuing series of violations" but also that the he committed each of the individual "violations" necessary to make up that "continuing series." In other words, the proposed instruction would have required the jury to unanimously agree on which three acts constituted the alleged series of violations. The judge rejected Richardson's proposal and, instead, instructed the jurors that they must unanimously agree that the defendant committed at least three federal narcotics offenses, but did not have to agree as to the particular offenses. Subsequently, the jury convicted Richardson. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial judge's jury instruction.


Does the "continuing criminal enterprise" statute require juror unanimity as to each specific violation of federal law for conviction?

Decision: 6 votes for Richardson, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: 21 U.S.C. 848

Yes. In a 6-3 opinion delivered by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the Court held that a jury in a "continuing criminal enterprise" case is required to agree unanimously not only that accused committed continuing series of violations, but also which specific violations made up the continuing series. Looking to the language of the statute, Justice Breyer concluded that in the law "each 'violation' amounts to a separate element" and that combined with a "tradition of requiring juror unanimity where the issue is whether a defendant has engaged in conduct that violates the law," calls for juror unanimity. In dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy expressed the view that the Court's decision "rewards those drug kingpins whose operations are so vast that the individual violations cannot be recalled or charged with specificity."

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RICHARDSON v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <>.
RICHARDSON v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 26, 2015).
"RICHARDSON v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015,