How Do Federal Defense Attorneys Challenge Wire Fraud Charges?
Wire fraud is a serious federal crime that involves using wire communications like phone, radio, television, or internet to intentionally devise a scheme to defraud someone out of money or property. It’s governed by 18 U.S. Code § 1343 and carries penalties of up to 20 years in prison, fines up to $250,000, and restitution payments.
If you’ve been charged with wire fraud, having an experienced federal defense attorney on your side is crucial for mounting an effective defense and securing the best possible outcome. Here are some of the main ways skilled federal defense lawyers challenge wire fraud charges:
Examining the Specific Intent Element
One of the key elements prosecutors must prove for a wire fraud conviction is specific intent – that the defendant intended to devise a scheme to defraud the victim. This means they knowingly and intentionally set out to commit fraud, not just that fraud incidentally resulted from their actions.
Your attorney will thoroughly examine the evidence to determine if there are any gaps or inconsistencies regarding your intent. For instance, if you were an unwitting participant in someone else’s scheme, or reasonably believed your actions were legitimate, it would undermine the specific intent element.
Questioning the Fraud Itself
In addition to intent, prosecutors must prove there was an actual scheme or artifice to defraud the victim out of money or property. Your lawyer will meticulously analyze the alleged scheme to see if the evidence truly shows fraud occurred or if there are plausible alternative explanations.
For example, poor communication, unintentionally incomplete information, disorganized record-keeping, or simple misunderstandings could potentially explain discrepancies without actual fraud being present. Pointing out these possibilities can raise reasonable doubt.
Challenging the Sufficiency of the Evidence
Prosecutors bear the full burden of proving every element of wire fraud beyond a reasonable doubt with sufficient evidence. Your attorney will scrutinize all the evidence they’re relying on to identify any weaknesses, inconsistencies, errors, exaggerations or conclusions that aren’t fully supported.
Pinpointing where the evidence falls short of the reasonable doubt threshold can be grounds for acquittal or dismissal of the charges.
Asserting Affirmative Defenses
Your lawyer may also raise affirmative defenses that excuse otherwise unlawful conduct or negate criminal intent. For wire fraud charges, common affirmative defenses include:
- Good faith – You sincerely believed your actions were lawful and that you weren’t trying to defraud anyone. This would negate fraudulent intent.
- Mistake of fact – You made incorrect factual assumptions that shaped your understanding of the situation, negating intent.
- Entrapment – The scheme originated with law enforcement officials who improperly induced you to commit a crime you otherwise wouldn’t have.
- Duress – You were coerced into the scheme by threats of harm against yourself or loved ones.
- Statute of limitations – Too much time has passed between the alleged acts and the charges being filed.
Negotiating Plea Agreements
Rather than going to trial, your attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable plea deal with reduced charges and/or sentencing recommendations through discussions with the prosecution. This avoids the risk and expense of trial.
Seeking Sentencing Leniency
If convicted, your lawyer can advocate for the lowest possible sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines. This includes presenting mitigating factors like your minimal criminal history, family obligations, health conditions, or cooperation with prosecutors.
Your attorney can appeal your conviction by identifying procedural errors, evidentiary issues, incorrect rulings by the judge or other mistakes that could warrant overturning the verdict or sentence.
Pinpointing Statutory Loopholes
In some cases, your lawyer may find loopholes in the wire fraud statutes or identify exceptions that could invalidate the charges. For instance, the US Department of Justice’s guidelines specify that wire fraud charges shouldn’t be brought if the victims’ losses are less than $5,000.
Focusing on Wire Communications
The government must prove you used an interstate wire communication like a phone call or email to carry out the alleged fraud scheme. If the evidence of wire communications is lacking, your lawyer can potentially get the charges dismissed or reduced to state fraud charges.
Limiting Evidence Scope
Your attorney can file motions arguing certain evidence should be deemed inadmissible because it exceeds the scope of the search warrant, was obtained illegally, or is too prejudicial. Getting key evidence thrown out can cripple the prosecution’s case.
Securing Expert Witnesses
Your lawyer may retain expert witnesses like forensic accountants, private investigators, or other specialists to analyze the evidence and provide testimony rebutting the prosecution’s accusations of fraud.
Attacking Credibility of Witnesses
By investigating prosecution witnesses and their backgrounds, your lawyer can uncover impeachment evidence like bias, inconsistencies, or motives to lie that undercuts their credibility. Your lawyer can use this to undermine damning witness testimony.
Highlighting Mental State
Evidence of diminished mental capacity like mental illness, cognitive disorders, or susceptibility to manipulation could potentially show you lacked the requisite intent to commit fraud. Your lawyer can introduce medical records, evaluations, and testimony to argue this.
Leveraging Pretrial Diversion
In some cases, your attorney may be able to secure pretrial diversion, allowing you to avoid prosecution by completing a rehabilitation or restitution program. This leaves you without a criminal conviction if successfully completed.
Stressing Collateral Consequences
Your lawyer can emphasize to prosecutors and the judge the severe collateral consequences you’re likely to face with a wire fraud conviction, like destruction of your career, reputation and finances. This may persuade them to offer more leniency.
If the court orders you to pay restitution to victims, your attorney can dispute the excessive restitution amounts claimed by scrutinizing the evidence of actual losses. Lower restitution can help reduce your sentence.
Cooperating with Prosecutors
You may be able to provide substantial assistance to prosecutors in building cases against others involved in the alleged scheme in exchange for having your charges dropped or reduced, or your sentence lowered.