29 Nov 23

I Was Charged With Conspiracy – What Federal Penalties Do I Face?

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Last Updated on: 15th December 2023, 05:46 pm

I Was Charged With Conspiracy – What Federal Penalties Do I Face?

If you’ve been charged with conspiracy under federal law, it can be an extremely serious and complex situation. Conspiracy charges mean prosecutors believe you made an agreement with someone else to commit a crime, even if the crime wasn’t actually carried out. Let’s break down what federal conspiracy charges mean and what penalties you could be facing.

What Does it Mean to be Charged With Federal Conspiracy?

Conspiracy is considered an “inchoate” crime, meaning it’s based on the agreement itself, not the completed criminal act. Under 18 U.S.C. § 371, federal conspiracy has two basic elements:

  • There was an agreement between two or more people to commit a federal crime
  • You knew about the agreement and voluntarily joined in

The agreement doesn’t have to be formal or spoken. It can be based on a tacit understanding between co-conspirators inferred from circumstantial evidence. Conspiracy charges are serious because they represent advanced planning. Prosecutors don’t need to prove you actually committed the underlying crime, just that you agreed to participate in its commission.

How Are Federal Conspiracy Charges Proven?

Since direct evidence of a conspiratorial agreement is rare, prosecutors often rely on circumstantial evidence to prove conspiracy charges. Types of circumstantial evidence include:

  • Records of communication between alleged co-conspirators, like texts, emails, or phone calls
  • Evidence of coordinated or joint activity in furtherance of the conspiracy
  • Your relationship with other alleged conspirators
  • Statements you or others made about the conspiracy
  • Conduct that seems to advance the conspiracy’s goals

Prosecutors don’t have to prove you knew all the details or participated in every part of the conspiracy. Just being aware of the essential nature of the plan and intentionally joining in is enough.

What Are the Federal Penalties for Conspiracy?

The penalties for federal conspiracy depend on the underlying crime you allegedly agreed to commit. In general, the statutory maximum sentence for conspiracy is the same as the object offense. For example:

  • Conspiracy to commit mail or wire fraud – up to 20 years in prison
  • Conspiracy to violate federal drug laws – up to life in prison
  • Conspiracy to commit money laundering – up to 20 years in prison
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However, under the United States Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based on the total offense level, which considers factors like:

  • The amount of loss or harm caused
  • Your role in the conspiracy
  • Whether you accepted responsibility
  • Your criminal history

So while the statutory maximums seem harsh, your ultimate sentence could be much less under the Guidelines. But it’s still critical to fight the charges, because a conspiracy conviction alone can lead to substantial prison time.

Are There Any Defenses to Federal Conspiracy Charges?

  • No agreement – Argue there was no real agreement, just speculative discussions.
  • Withdrawal – If you withdrew from the conspiracy before any overt acts were taken.
  • Lack of intent – You didn’t realize the criminality of the plan.
  • Entrapment – You were improperly induced by government agents.
  • Duress – You were forced into the agreement against your will.

Raising reasonable doubt about any element of the conspiracy can beat the charge. An experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is essential to navigate these complex cases and advise on the best defense strategy.

What Are the Collateral Consequences of a Federal Conspiracy Conviction?

Beyond potential prison time, a federal conspiracy conviction can impact your life in many adverse ways:

  • A felony conviction appears on background checks and hurts job prospects
  • Loss of certain civil rights like voting and serving on a jury
  • Potential immigration consequences if you’re not a U.S. citizen
  • Bars from possessing a firearm
  • Difficulty obtaining professional licenses
  • Ineligibility for federal benefits like student loans

These severe collateral consequences provide strong incentive to fight the charges at all costs. An experienced federal criminal defense attorney can advise on the odds of winning at trial versus negotiating a favorable plea deal that reduces penalties. Every case is unique.