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How Do Federal Conspiracy Charges Work?

October 7, 2021

Federal conspiracy cases can be difficult to defend. To achieve the desired outcome, federal criminal lawyers need a thorough understanding of the evidence held by prosecutors. Conspiracy charges are typically brought about under 18 U.S.C. § 371, and they include a long list of potentially criminal offenses.

What Is a Conspiracy?

A federal conspiracy crime occurs when two or more people agree to commit a crime together, and at least one of them acts overtly to advance the conspiracy. In the federal criminal justice system, conspiracies are broad and confusing charges.

The prosecution doesn’t need a written agreement between the conspirators. It only needs to show that the conspirators were working together to commit a federal crime.

Under 8 U.S.C. § 371, it’s a crime to conspire with others to defraud the U.S. government and to break other federal laws. Essentially, conspiracy is a crime of agreement. Whether the goal of the conspiracy is achieved or not is another matter.

Criminal conspiracy statutes condemn joining with others to carry out illegal activities. These acts are considered so unlawful that merely talking with other people about committing them is considered a crime.

What makes the crime of conspiracy so perplexing is that it’s more focused on agreement and intention than on action.

What Is Conspiracy to Commit an Offense?

It’s possible for someone to be charged with and prosecuted for criminal conspiracy even if no crime is committed. The act of planning the crime in and of itself is against the law. A conversation can be used against you to prove that a conspiracy has occurred, even if additional evidence is required.

According to federal conspiracy statute 18 U.S.C. § 371, a conspiracy occurs when two or more individuals agree to commit a federal crime, and at least one of the individuals commits an overt act to further the goal of the conspiracy. Federal law prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States, impede or injure an officer or engage in violent crimes.

What Is the Overt Act Requirement?

Under the overt act requirement and according to many conspiracy statutes, at least one of the conspirators must commit an action that advances the goal of the conspiracy. Under statutes that require an overt action, agreement alone is not sufficient.

Overt acts might include stockpiling rifles or scoping out a potential crime scene. If one conspirator commits an overt act, all other conspirators become guilty of the crime as well.

What Are Some Typical Federal Conspiracy Crimes?


  • Drug trafficking
  • Gang crimes
  • Racketeering
  • Embezzlement
  • White collar crimes
  • Health care fraud,
  • Mail fraud
  • Securities fraud
  • Money laundering
  • Wire fraud
  • Counterfeiting
  • Bank fraud

Penalties associated with conspiratorial crimes may greatly exceed the maximum five years of imprisonment. Conspiracy can be charged at both the state and federal levels as both a misdemeanor and a felony.

If a conviction occurs, the charges will determine the penalty. You could be charged with committing other crimes besides conspiracy. In that case, separate penalties are imposed for each crime. When state laws are broken in addition to federal laws, stiffer penalties are likely to apply.

Federal conspiracy is an easy crime to to commit, and people can commit conspiracy without even realizing it. Even worse, if one conspirator commits an overt action, then all the conspirators are equally guilty.

This is true even if they were not serious about committing a crime in the first place. Additionally, co-conspirators are responsible for future crimes committed by any conspirator that advance the agenda of the conspiracy.

Conspiracy laws are meant to discourage the formation of criminal cabals by making cabal members easy targets for prosecutors. They are specifically designed to discourage criminal enterprises.

How Can I Defend Myself If I’m Charged With Conspiracy?

If you have been charged with conspiracy, you still have important constitutional rights. You are entitled to legal representation, a fair and speedy trial, due process and protection against self-incrimination and unreasonable search and seizure.

An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer can assert your constitutional rights to suppress evidence or get the charges dismissed if federal prosecutors violate your rights.

What Is Reasonable Doubt?

Conspiracy is a crime of intention and agreement. If your lawyer creates reasonable doubt about your complicity, the prosecution must then prove that you clearly intended and agreed to commit a criminal act.

Mere association with a group of conspirators does not prove that you’re guilty of conspiracy, and it’s not legally a conspiracy if you listen to someone else discussing a potential crime.

Similarly, discussing the commission of a crime is not the same thing as agreeing to commit a crime. Rather, there must be clear agreement on your part to perform a criminal offense. Furthermore, the prosecutors must prove the commission of an overt action designed to further the goal of the conspiracy.

Ensuring that prosecutors prove each of these elements beyond a reasonable doubt is what an experienced federal criminal conspiracy lawyer can do to ensure the most positive outcome of your case.

How Do Federal Conspiracy Charges Work?

The justice is vast. Law enforcement officials are entrusted with examining many different types of possible criminal violations. Some are very simple and easy to understand. For example, someone may be accused of murder or kidnapping. Other kinds of charges, however, can be more complicated and harder to understand. If you or a loved one are being accused of a crime such as conspiracy, it can be hard to figure out exactly what’s being alleged. It is important to under the basics of such charges as well as what evidence the government is likely to have against you. It’s also important to understand why might happen if you are convicted of such a crime.

federal Conspiracy is a Popular Charge

Over the past few decades, prosecutors have been using federal conspiracy charges with increasing frequency. Prosecutors tend to like this kind of charge because it enables them to bring in a large body of evidence that might normally be inadmissible under other circumstances. For example, if someone is engaged in a relatively minor drug crime, federal officers can make the case that the person involved was actually involved in a much larger attempt to carry out and commit crimes. Rather than having done a minor offense such as carrying drugs once in their suitcase when traveling across state lines, the prosecutor can argue that the person was involved in part of an effort to deliberately and conscious evade American drug laws as part of a greater organization.

Conspiracy can also be a very vague term that is hard to define. Essentially, conspiracy is a crime of planning to do something as well as doing it. Conspiracy involves two or more people who are engaged in a plan to start or continue an attempt to engage in a form of illegal activity. The parties typically make an agreement with each other to agree to break the law together. One person may then take deliberate steps to violate American laws. The parties do not have need to have a written agreement for there to be any form of conspiracy. They don’t even have to meet in person. A person may simply have a shadowy contact. They may follow that contact’s orders from in the United States or from abroad. For example, a drug kingpin in South America may issue orders and then have the person carry out those orders in the United States.

From The Bottom Up

Unlike some other types of crimes, a charge of conspiracy can include many different actions. One person may have made a few phone calls while the other actually carried the drugs into the airport on their physical person. Both the person who made the phone calls and the person who put the drugs on their bodies can be charged with being part of a federal conspiracy. Officials also like this charge because it may not require them to bring out a lot of evidence in order to prove this charge in a court of law. Government officials don’t even need to prove that a person knew all the details of the conspiracy. For example, you might be a personal assistant to someone higher up. At some point, you might learn that there’s some form of fraud going on in your place of business. If you don’t quit your job once you learn about the fraud, you can be charged under federal conspiracy laws.

Officials may even be more inclined to go after low level employees rather than those higher up. Many low level employees, especially those who have never been in trouble with the law before, are terrified at the thought of being investigated. Someone higher up the ladder may have dealt with law enforcement officials on routine basis as part of their job. Going after the low level employees can also make it appear that the official is doing something to combat crime. People who are accused of such charges may be lead to believe that little will happen to them. The officials may even imply there will no criminal charges once they have given their testimony.

This is why it is hugely important to work with legal counsel from the very first. While the feds may promise the person will be immune from conspiracy charges if they speak out, such is not always the case. Keep in mind that you can be charged for the criminal actions of others. Evidence such as hearsay that is not normally allowed in court can also be used against you as part of this kind of charge. This is one of many important reasons why you need to hire someone to be at your side as soon as you find out about such charges. Excellent lawyers will help make sure justice is done.




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