FEDERAL CONSPIRACY CHARGES – THE LAW
Conspiracy is often charged in federal cases because it covers a broad range of conduct. These charges are challenging to defend and require a great amount of diligence and investigation on the part of a skilled defense attorney.
A criminal conspiracy is an illegal agreement between two or more people to violate the law. However, an agreement alone is not enough to be guilty under federal conspiracy law. The prosecution must also prove that the defendant had a specific intent to enter into the conspiracy and, under most statues, must prove an overt act to further the conspiracy.
Federal conspiracy charges are most commonly brought as violations of 18 U.S.C. § 371 (general conspiracy) or 21 U.S.C. § 846 (drug conspiracy). The general conspiracy statute makes it a federal crime to conspire to commit an offense against the United States or to conspire to defraud the United States. The drug conspiracy statute makes it a federal crime to conspire to commit federal drug offenses.
In order to convict a defendant of federal conspiracy, the prosecution in the case must prove all of the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt; however, it is important to know that the law of conspiracy allows prosecutors to bring in more evidence than they would otherwise be able to in cases where conspiracy charges are not involved. For example, they might use statements of alleged co-conspirators without the usual safeguards that make it more difficult to admit co-defendant statements into evidence.
In general, to be convicted of federal conspiracy charges the Government must prove: (1) that there was an agreement between at least two parties; (2) the agreement was made to achieve an illegal goal; (3) the parties had knowledge of the conspiracy and actually participated in the conspiracy; (4) at least one of the conspirators committed an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. However, this last requirement is not needed to prove drug conspiracy charges under 21 U.S.C. § 846.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 286, it is a federal crime to conspire to defraud the United States through the submission of a false claim. The general conspiracy statute 18 U.S.C. § 371 has the requirement of an overt act while 18 U.S.C. § 286 does not require an overt act. The crime of conspiracy is punished by fines and imprisonment and some defendants convicted of conspiracy have to pay restitution and are subject to forfeiture laws. In certain cases, the maximum punishment for conspiracy charges is life in prison.
When a large number of people are involved in a conspiracy, it is possible that many of the alleged participants have neither met nor spoken to one another. In these cases, it is common for a person who was involved in a comparatively minor way to be accused of the larger conspiracy with others who allegedly had a larger role.
DEFENSES TO FEDERAL CONSPIRACY CHARGES
There are several defenses that a defendant may use if facing federal conspiracy charges.
- Statute of Limitations – Under 18 U.S.C. § 3282, a five-year statute of limitations applies to federal conspiracy charges. A conspiracy is generally held to run from the date of the last overt act committed in furtherance of the conspiracy. Under 18 U.S.C. § 286, the statute of limitations begins when a conspirator abandons the conspiracy or abandons accomplishing its objectives.
- Variance – The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that a criminal defendant be given adequate notice of the charges against them. A defendant charged with federal conspiracy charges can raise this defense if there is a variance between the number of conspiracies charged in the indictment and the number of conspiracies proved at trial.
- Mere Presence – A defendant in a federal conspiracy case cannot be convicted if they were merely present with the co-conspirators but did not act in a way that would suggest any connection to the conspiracy.
- Isolated Buyer/Seller – If a defendant in a federal conspiracy case commits a single, ordinary act, this is not enough to convict them of conspiracy since the crime of conspiracy requires two or more participants. If a mere buyer/seller relationship existed, this is generally not enough to convict a defendant of being a co-conspirator in a case involving drug conspiracy charges.
- Coercion – The defense of coercion may be used if the person with conspiracy charges agreed to participate in the conspiracy because of threatened force. The defendant must prove that there was an imminent threat, fear that the threat would be carried out, and no opportunity to escape.
- Withdrawal – If a defendant enters into a conspiracy but then withdraws before committing an overt act to further the conspiracy the crime of conspiracy may not have been completed.
The various federal conspiracy laws and defenses have subtle but important differences, and it’s critical to have the assistance of a skilled an experienced Federal Defense Attorney to protect your name, your freedom and your life. Don’t let conspiracy charges ruin your life. Your freedom and good name are invaluable. We know the law. We have the experience. And we will fight for you. Contact us today to schedule a free phone consultation. Payment plans are available.