Navigating Charges Under Federal Conspiracy Statute
If you need an experienced defense lawyer who can navigate charges under the federal conspiracy statute, the team at Scrofano Law are proven winners.
Meaning of Federal Conspiracy Charges
Being charged with federal conspiracy means the United States government believes that two or more persons agreed to defraud the United States or commit another federal crime.
Most people think the government has to prove that the co-conspirators have committed the offense they agreed to commit. But, that is not the case. The fact that there is an agreement and one of the people involved has done something that furthers the conspiracy is enough for conspiracy charges.
Under the federal conspiracy statute, federal conspiracy charges can be brought against anyone accused of conspiring to commit any crime against the US government. That’s why retaining the legal services of experienced criminal defense attorneys is crucial. They can explain if you and your co-accused have committed an offense and craft a defense strategy that may help avoid a conspiracy conviction.
What Is the Crime of Federal Conspiracy?
The crime of conspiracy can be a broad and confusing term. Aside from defrauding the United States, the federal conspiracy law 18 U.S.C. § 371 does not define any particular criminal objective. It criminalizes all conspiracies to violate federal laws.
How Do Federal Prosecutors Prove the Crime of Conspiracy?
Proving a written agreement between two or more persons to commit the crime is not necessary for conspiracy charges. Federal prosecutors can prove a conspiracy by showing that the people involved were working together to commit a federal crime.
But, certain elements have to exist that would make that crime a federal criminal conspiracy. These elements include:
An agreement between two or more people to commit a specific federal crime
The accused knew about the conspiracy
Talking about committing a crime that can violate federal law
At least one of these people did some overt act to accomplish the crime
What Is an Overt Act?
The overt act can be the most confusing part of the conspiracy to commit the crime. It is the final element of the conspiracy crime, representing the “affirmative act done by one or more of the co-conspirators.” It comes after the agreement and makes the conspiracy crime complete.
Two or more persons won’t be convicted of the crime for simply talking about that crime. Federal prosecutors, however, can consider the crime of conspiracy committed if even one co-conspirator has at least taken steps to enact that plan.
Crimes Constituting Federal Conspiracy
Many crimes can result in conspiracy charges. Conspiracy charges can be attached to several crimes, including:
- Drug trafficking
- White-collar crimes like fraud, embezzlement, and securities fraud
- Gang crimes
- Money laundering
If you have been charged with conspiring to commit a federal offense, reaching out to an experienced criminal lawyer would be the wisest thing to do.
Penalties for Federal Conspiracy
A conspiracy doesn’t merge with the underlying offense or the substantive offense. A person can be convicted of both – an underlying crime and conspiracy to commit it. Consequently, they could receive separate punishments for each offense, which could be severe.
If the underlying crime was a felony, the general conspiracy statute provides a maximum punishment of up to 5 years. There is also a potential fine of as much as $250,000.
But, if the underlying offense is a misdemeanor, the maximum punishment won’t exceed the maximum punishment for a misdemeanor.
Notably, those convicted of federal conspiracy may be liable for restitution to any person directly harmed by their actions while committing the conspiracy.
However, prosecutors have to prove all of the elements of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt for a person to be convicted on a federal conspiracy charge. That means the government has to prove people involved entered into an agreement to violate federal law and that there was some overt act committed after that agreement was reached.
In addition, members of the conspiracy will be liable for all the foreseeable crimes their co-conspirators committed in furtherance of the agreement. Moreover, statements by one co-conspirator can be used as evidence against all.
Conspiracy vs. Attempt to Commit a Crime
Even though conspiracy and attempt to commit the crime are both offenses that don’t require actually committing the underlying offense for a conviction, they are not the same.
Conspiracy requires two more people to be involved. An individual can’t be convicted of federal conspiracy by conspiring alone. On the other hand, an attempt to commit a crime can be committed by a single individual. The attempt becomes a crime when the offender closely approaches committing the offense. Contrary to this, even simple preparations can suggest a conspiracy crime.
It is important to note that the impossibility or inability to commit the crime is not a proper defense to either attempt or federal conspiracy charges.
Federal Conspiracy Lawyer
Conspiracy charges should be taken very seriously. A conviction for this crime carries severe consequences, including jail time, hefty fines, and social stigmatization.
That’s why it’s crucial to have optimal representation, which Scrofano Law can provide. The right federal criminal lawyer can help you navigate the complex federal legal system, represent you in negotiations with federal prosecutors, and defend your rights in federal court. Scrofano Law P.C. handles federal criminal court cases in Washington, DC, and the Eastern District of Virginia.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Conspiracy?
The statute of limitations for the crime of conspiracy is five years. The prosecution has to begin working on the case within 5 years of the last committed overt act.
Some criminal conspiracy laws don’t have an overt act requirement, like conspiracy to engage in drug trafficking. In such cases, the statute of limitations is calculated differently. For example, the statute of limitations can start running when one individual withdraws from the conspiracy or when the conspiracy’s goal has been accomplished.
Can you “Accidentally” Commit the Crime of Federal Conspiracy?
People can often be unaware that in certain circumstances, having a hypothetical discussion with the wrong people may result in government charges, especially if elements outlined under the general conspiracy statute occurred. If two friends talk about robbing a bank, they can’t be charged with conspiracy. But, if one of them simply takes photographs of the bank, they could face conspiracy charges.
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