Federal prosecutors often file conspiracy charges under 18 U.S.C. § 371 that cover a wide range of alleged criminal conduct.
Conspiracy charges are typically difficult to defend and a federal criminal lawyer must thoroughly investigate the prosecutor's evidence in order to develop a strategy to challenge the charges.
A “conspiracy” to commit a federal crime occurs whenever:
- two or more people make an agreement to commit a specific federal crime, and
- at least one of these people makes some overt act to further the conspiracy.
Conspiracy has always been a broad and confusing term in federal criminal justice system.
For example, the government doesn't have to prove there was a written agreement between two or more people, rather a prosecutor can prove a conspiracy by just showing the people involved were working together to do some federal crime.
The federal conspiracy statute is 18 U.S.C. § 371 which criminalizes both conspiracies to defraud the United States and conspiracy to violate other federal laws.
To give readers a better understanding of conspiracy laws at the federal level, our federal criminal defense lawyers are providing a detailed review below.
What Is a Conspiracy Under Federal Law?
As stated above, the crime of conspiracy is relatively easy to understand: conspiracy is an agreement crime.
The wrong that criminal conspiracy statutes condemn is agreeing to pursue a goal that the law considers wrong or reprehensible enough that the agreement itself is criminal, whether the conspiracy accomplishes its goal or not.
What confuses people about conspiracy crime is that the word conspiracy itself doesn't quite say what the wrong is. One has to know what the conspiracy's object is to know why conspiring toward that object is wrong.
Overt act requirement
Notably, many conspiracy statutes require at least one of the two or more co-conspirators to do some act to effect, further, or accomplish the underlying goal, what the law calls the “overt act” requirement.
As to those statutes requiring a furthering act, agreement alone is not enough.
Someone must also act toward accomplishing the goal, whether that act is to purchase necessary weapons, case the joint preparing for the crime, or so forth.
But when one conspirator does the required act, all co-conspirators become guilty of the conspiracy crime.
Conspiracy to Commit Offense – 18 U.S.C. § 371
The general federal conspiracy statute 18 U.S.C. § 371 defines conspiracy as when two or more persons conspire to commit any federal crime, and at least one acts toward that object:
- “If two or more people conspire either to commit any offense, or to defraud the United States, in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more people do any act to effect the conspiracy, will be fined and imprisoned for up to five years.”
Notice that the general federal conspiracy statute 18 U.S.C. § 371 does not define any particular criminal object other than to defraud the United States.
To apply this statute, one must look to other federal criminal statutes for the underlying wrongful object.
Common federal conspiracy crimes
The underlying federal crimes to which 18 U.S.C. § 371 can append a conspiracy conviction may include crimes like:
- drug trafficking, or
- white collar crimes,
- health care fraud,
- gang crimes,
- wire fraud,
- mail fraud,
- bank fraud,
- money laundering,
- securities fraud.
The penalties for which may far exceed 18 U.S.C. § 371 maximum five years of imprisonment.
But that's part of the point of the conspiracy crime. it's one thing to agree and act while a more serious thing to accomplish the goal of the agreement.
The federal code includes many other criminal statutes that include their own conspiracy term.
For more information, see a detailed report from the Congressional Research Service on federal conspiracy law and its relationship to aiding, abetting, and solicitation crimes, what law sometimes calls inchoate or incomplete crimes.
Why Is Federal Conspiracy a Common Charge?
Unfortunately, conspiracy is all too easy for a person at the fringes of a criminal enterprise to commit.
Remember, conspiracy in common form, as under federal 18 U.S.C. § 371:
- takes only one of the conspirators to act furthering the conspiracy's object,
- for all conspirators to be guilty of the crime.
The seriousness, urgency, and commitment of that one conspirator who takes the furthering act is enough to make all conspirators guilty, even those who may not have been nearly so serious or urgent about, or committed to, the crime.
Conspiracy is thus easy to commit by agreement when others do the hard core work of furthering the conspiracy's object.
This is why we see so many charged with conspiracy who seem only at the periphery of the object crime or wrong.
A conspiracy charge further reflects the seriousness of the wrong when two or more unite in crime.
Conspiracy laws discourage criminal enterprises from forming and make such enterprises easier targets for prosecution.
To further discourage persons from uniting in crime, the law generally holds co-conspirators responsible not just for the conspiracy, but also for the accomplished object crime, even if only one of the co-conspirators actually does it.
Law even goes one step further, which is to hold co-conspirators liable for any other foreseeable crimes one of the conspirators commits in furtherance of the conspiracy's object.
You can see now how broad a net the law of conspiracy throws over criminal enterprises.
How Can I Fight Federal Conspiracy Charges?
If you have been accused of a federal conspiracy charge under 18 U.S.C. § 371, our federal criminal defense lawyers can use a variety of strategies to fight the case for best possible outcome.
Defendants at critical stages of criminal proceedings have important constitutional rights like:
- rights to counsel,
- due process,
- a fair and speedy trial, and
- against self-incrimination, and
- unreasonable search and seizure.
We know how to assert those rights, help clients rely on those rights, and help clients obtain suppression of evidence and dismissal of charges when federal officials violate those rights.
Creating reasonable doubt
Yet defending federal conspiracy charges most often depends on making federal prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt each element of conspiracy's definition.
A co-conspirator must first have conspired, meaning agreed to the accomplishment of the criminal object. Listening to another speak about a potential crime is not a conspiracy.
Even talking about a potential crime is not enough without agreement on its accomplishment. The agreement must also be to accomplish the criminal object, not some innocent goal outside that object.
And federal prosecutors must, under the general federal conspiracy statute 18 U.S.C. § 371, prove an overt act furthering that object, not innocent acts unrelated to that object's accomplishment.
Best Criminal Defense for Federal Conspiracy Charges
Federal prosecutors must prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, making strong representation from an experienced federal criminal lawyer critical to the successful outcome of federal conspiracy charges.
Our law firm can investigate, present, and advocate evidence, whether in pretrial motions, plea bargaining, or at trial, that reasonable doubt exists that the defendant charged with federal conspiracy committed the crime.
Eisner Gorin LLP are a nationally recognized criminal defense law firm that represents people in California and throughout the United States.
Our firm is located at 1999 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Fl., Los Angeles, CA 90067.
Our main office is in the San Fernando Valley area of LA County at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact our office to review the details of your case at (877) 781-1570.