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I’m Charged with a Federal Conspiracy – What Does That Mean Legally?

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 10:08 am


I’m Charged with a Federal Conspiracy – What Does That Mean Legally?

Being charged with a federal conspiracy can be a scary and confusing experience. As someone who’s been charged, you’re probably wondering – what does this mean for me legally? What are the potential penalties I’m facing? And what can I do to try and defend myself? I’ll try to break it down in this article so you have a better understanding of what a federal conspiracy charge entails.

What is a Federal Conspiracy Charge?

A federal conspiracy charge means prosecutors are alleging you made an agreement with someone else to commit a crime against the U.S. or to defraud the government. The key aspect is that they’re saying you and others worked together towards an illegal goal – you had a shared criminal purpose and took steps to carry it out. Some key aspects of conspiracy charges:

  • The conspiracy itself is a separate crime – prosecutors don’t have to prove you actually completed the underlying crime, just that you agreed to try and do it.
  • You can face a conspiracy charge even if you didn’t know all the details or everyone involved in the scheme.
  • Overt acts – prosecutors usually have to show some action was taken in furtherance of the conspiracy, though not necessarily by you.

Some common federal conspiracy charges include drug trafficking, financial fraud, or terrorism-related conspiracies. But really any kind of federal crime can form the basis of a conspiracy charge if prosecutors believe multiple people worked together.

How Serious are the Potential Penalties?

Federal conspiracy charges are very serious – they are felony charges, meaning potential prison time of over 1 year. Exact penalties vary widely based on the specific conspiracy, but some general guidelines:

  • Up to 5 years in prison for basic conspiracy under 18 U.S.C. § 371.
  • Up to life in prison for drug trafficking under 21 U.S.C. § 846.
  • Up to 20 years for financial fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1349.

In addition to prison time, you may face heavy fines, supervised release, and forfeiture of assets. And a federal felony conviction stays on your record for life and can impact future employment, housing, and other opportunities. So these are very serious charges where avoiding conviction is critical.

What Are the Elements Prosecutors Must Prove?

To convict you of federal conspiracy, prosecutors must prove these basic elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. You made an agreement with one or more persons to commit a federal crime or defraud the U.S.
  2. You knew the purpose of the agreement and joined intentionally.
  3. One of the conspirators committed an overt act during the conspiracy to further the goal.

The agreement doesn’t have to be formal or spoken – it can be an unspoken understanding. Hard evidence like recordings or documents help, but prosecutors can use circumstantial evidence and testimony to prove an agreement existed. Your knowledge of and voluntary participation in the scheme also may be proven indirectly. Overt acts can include anything from a phone call to purchasing supplies to further the goal.

What Are Some Possible Defenses I Should Consider?

Some potential defenses to federal conspiracy charges include:

  • No agreement – Argue the evidence doesn’t really show an agreement between you and others, just suspicion or associations.
  • No knowledge – Claim you didn’t know the true purpose of the agreement or scheme.
  • Lack of intent – Argue you didn’t intentionally join the conspiracy or acted under duress.
  • Statute of limitations – Conspiracies must occur within 5 years of indictment.
  • Withdrawal – Claim you withdrew from the conspiracy before any overt acts were committed.

A skilled federal criminal defense attorney can analyze the evidence against you and determine the best defense strategy for your specific case. Going to trial and convincing a jury there is reasonable doubt is not your only option – your attorney may also be able to negotiate a plea deal resulting in reduced charges or a lighter sentence depending on your alleged role in the conspiracy.


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