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Federal prosecutors are often faced with a challenging prospect in difficult cases where they lack solid evidence. One favorite tool for some federal prosecutors to use to maximize sentencing or win a case is to charge someone with federal conspiracy. Federal conspiracy is a broad term used to describe crimes that were planned, but may or may have been committed. A federal conspiracy charge allows the government to indict a large number of people connected to one or more crimes.
What is Federal Conspiracy?
Federal conspiracy is defined under the statute 18 USC 371. The statute makes planning to commit a federal crime illegal. This doesn’t mean you are charged with federal conspiracy because you committed a crime. It means that you worked with other people to conspire to commit a federal crime.
According to the statute, it is illegal for more than two people to plan to commit a federal crime or defraud the federal government. Also, you or a co-conspirator must go a step further in the planning of the federal crime. This means they try to make the crime happen. The federal government cause this an overt act.
A Federal Prosecutor Must Prove Conspiracy Occurred
A federal prosecutor isn’t required to prove you or a co-conspirator committed a federal crime. They aren’t required to show that you took an overt step to make the crime reality. Another thing a federal prosecutor isn’t obligated to prove is that you and any alleged co-conspirator had a written or oral agreement to commit a federal crime.
Here is what a federal prosecutor is required to prove to convict you on federal conspiracy charges:
• You entered into an agreement with one or more persons.
• That agreement was to commit a federal crime or defraud the government.
• A co-conspirator to a step to initiate the plan. That initial step was an overt step to commit a federal crime or defraud the government.
In the second element, where a prosecutor must prove the intent to commit a federal crime, the prosecutor explains the crime. There are many common conspiracy crimes such as:
• Restrain trade
• Federal health care offense
• Submit one or more fraudulent claims to a federal agency
• Seditious conspiracy
• Deprive a person of their civil rights
• Drug trafficking
Sentencing Guidelines for a Federal Conspiracy Conviction
Federal conspiracy has specific punishments. These penalties are found in the sentencing guidelines. These guidelines determine the minimum and maximum imprisonment a person faces if they are convicted of federal conspiracy.
• Criminal penalty outlined under 18 USC 371. This is five years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine or both penalties.
• Criminal penalty for the underlying offense. The term “underlying offense” refers to the crime you did or planned to commit. Thus, the sentence depends on the crime.
• Criminal penalty for misdemeanor offense. If the federal crime or attempt to defraud the government was a misdemeanor offense, you can’t be sentenced to more time that outline in that statute.
The judge could seize your property under forfeiture laws. Another option is to order you to pay restitution.
Defenses to Federal Conspiracy Charges
It may not seem like it, but there are a lot of federal conspiracy defenses. The specific defense used in your case will depend on facts and evidence. One common defense includes withdrawal of the federal conspiracy. This means that you did participate, but you changed your mind and took steps to withdraw from the conspiracy. Other defenses include attacking the elements of the case and innocence.
Contact Our Law Offices for Help with Your Federal Conspiracy Case
Federal conspiracy may seem like a simple case to win without getting legal help because a federal prosecutor has no case. There was no verbal or written agreement. Besides, you’re completely innocent. However, a federal conspiracy case isn’t always as simple. You may be innocent, but the prosecutors will work hard to convince a jury you’re guilty.
Whether you are suspected of or officially indicted on federal charges, contact our law offices. We are experienced in fighting federal conspiracy charges. We understand how to challenge the prosecutor’s evidence at trial and get the case dismissed. Contact us today.
When You See the Government’s Evidence against You
When facing federal charges, you will possibly get the right to see the evidence of the government against you sooner or later. You should work with a knowledgeable lawyer to use this opportunity to your advantage as you come up with a strategic defense. The discovery stage is mandated by federal rules. If your criminal case moves towards the point where both sides must disclose certain evidence to the other, you and your defense attorney will have a much clearer picture of the case against you. It is critical to act fast and get in touch with an attorney who knows what it takes to protect your rights and defend your freedom after federal charges.
The following can drastically impact and change the conclusion of your case: having a knowledge on when you can get the information, how to use discovery of evidence to your advantage, and what steps to take throughout every stage of the process. Our federal defense lawyers can advise you on what evidence must be disclosed, when discovery will be possible, and how to handle misconduct during discovery. We provide free initial case consultation to review the details of your situation and take further actions. You should not wait any longer if you have been charged—contact a lawyer who can protect you immediately. Even if you are only under federal investigation, for example if you have received a target letter, or if you have been approached or questioned by federal agents, it is important to act and secure legal representation as soon as possible. The quicker you begin working with a defense lawyer, the less convincing the case against you will be, and the more you and your federal defense lawyer will be able to do to challenge federal agents and prosecutors. Visit our firm today or call us via phone to learn more about our proven strategies.
Evidence during a Federal Investigation
If you are being investigated by a federal agency together with the U.S. Attorney, your federal attorney may be able to negotiate an early access to certain evidence. This is particularly true if you are working out a plea deal. However, this may not be too helpful as the prosecution has full power to limit the evidence you see. Your federal defense attorney can advise you about the necessary steps you can take and what you can do to protect and defend yourself.
Discovery Stage of a Federal Case
Your right to disclosure of evidence changes once you have been charged with a crime. The following must be disclosed by both sides:
Furthermore, any evidence that favors your side of the case will need to be exposed. Witness statements and attorney work product are exempted from disclosure during discovery. If the United States Attorney does not conform to discovery rules and fails to disclose relevant information, the court can order the lawyer to reveal that information, grant you more time for review, or prevent the evidence from being used.
Contact our legal defense team as soon as you suspect you are being investigated or if you are facing federal charges already. Keep in mind that it is important to be with a defense lawyer who understands how the discovery process works and knows how to use the government’s evidence to create a defense strategy. Let our legal team develop a strategic defense for you—get in touch with one of your skilled federal lawyers now.
Challenging Government Evidence
Whether you are up against the dea, FBI, IRS, or any other federal agency, our defense attorneys are ready to work with you and begin advising you on the steps you need to take to defend yourself. Our legal firm has built a reputation as one of the in misdemeanor and felony cases. With our successful state practice, we have licensed and experienced federal lawyers who work specifically with clients in federal cases and know how to guide clients through the defense process. Call our toll free number or send us a message online for more information on how our legal team can help you and to get started.
On the local level, conspiracy occurs when two or more individuals plan to commit a crime. That crime could be anything from murder to fraud. A person can go to state prison for committing conspiracy whether the crime actually happened or not. However, the federal government also its own conspiracy statutes. It’s outlined in 18 USC 371.
Title 18 USC 371 Makes it Illegal to Conspire to Plan a Federal Crime
According to 18 USC 371, it’s a crime for two or more people to conspire to plan to commit a federal crime. The statute doesn’t include one specific crime. Instead, it outlines the two broad categories of crimes that one can be accused of conspiring to commit. The categories include any offenses committed against the federal government and crimes to defraud the federal government.
The statute also includes the requirement that at least one person conspiring to commit the alleged federal crime takes an overt step to put the plan in motion. This means that you or one of your alleged co-conspirators tried or actually did act to further the conspiracy.
A federal conspiracy charge can sometimes involve circumstantial evidence or an alleged co-conspirator lying on you for a lighter sentence. If you or a loved one is accused of conspiracy to commit a federal crime, obtain legal counsel pronto.
A Federal Conspiracy Charge doesn’t Require a Written Agreement
The federal government doesn’t need any type of written agreement as proof that you and one or more co-conspirator conspired to defraud or commit a crime. In fact, a prosecutor isn’t required to show you and any alleged co-conspirators met in person or interacted when planning the federal crime.
Instead, a federal prosecutor is required to show you are guilty beyond all reasonable doubt with evidence that support specific elements. These elements are grouped together to define the federal conspiracy charge. Thus, a federal prosecutor must have evidence to support the elements that:
• You and two or more people conspired together.
• The conspiracy was to defraud the government or commit a federal crime.
• You or a fellow co-conspirator took an overt step to make the plan reality.
The Type of Crimes that Result in a Conspiracy Charge
Federal conspiracy charge is the start of something much worse: a subsequent federal charge. This means that in order to conspire with two or more people, you had the intent to commit an actual crime. Otherwise, there would be no conspiracy. The subsequent charge must be a federal crime. It can’t be a state or local crime. The types of federal crimes that would result from conspiracy charge are:
• Any fraud crime
• Restraining trade
• Health care offense
• Violating RICO
• Depriving an individual of their civil rights
• Submitting any fraudulent claim
• Seditious conspiracy
• Violating the Controlled Substances Act (21 USC 841)
• Any offense or attempt to defraud the government not listed
Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Violating 18 USC 371
The federal government has sentencing guidelines a judge must impose on anyone guilty of federal conspiracy. These sentencing guidelines are used to determine the maximum and minimum about of time a person may receive behind bars.
If you or your loved one is convicted of federal conspiracy, this is what you face:
Zero to five years in federal prison for violating Section 371. If you receive no time in federal prison, you may only pay a $250,000 fine. However, the judge can order federal prison time and a fine.
The criminal sentence associated with the underlying crime. Certain crimes such as racketeering, drug trafficking and terrorism require you receive the sentence associated with that crime. This is often more than five years in federal prison. This means that even if you did not commit the underlying crime, you’re punished as though you did it.
Zero to one year in jail. If the federal crime was a misdemeanor, you would receive a misdemeanor sentence. Thus, no prison time. Instead, you may receive one year or less in jail.
We are Your Federal Conspiracy Defense Lawyers
You’ve been accused of federal conspiracy. Now, it’s time to fight the charge. You have specific defenses available such as proving you did not conspire to commit a federal crime, or you changed your mind. Contact us to discuss your conspiracy charge.
There are actually quite a few different federal statutes relating to conspiracy. The type of statute actually depends on the nature of the conspiracy that is alleged to have been committed. Conspiracy is typically viewed as a criminal case that is white-collar in nature. The charges are brought forth in federal court, and the statute will serve to define the charge that has been issued against that accused. If you find yourself in this situation, the government has to prove you committed the specific type of conspiracy that it alleges in the complaint. This gives you a glimpse into the type of white collar crime that they are going to try you for in federal court.
It helps to know what some of the more commonly cited federal conspiracy statutes are so that you can be prepared. There are also others depending on the specific nature of the case, but this will give you a good start.
Conspiracy to Defraud America or Commit an Offense Against the United States
This statute is referred to as 18 U.S. Code 371. This involves two or more people who openly conspire to commit some type of offense against America. They could also be defrauding the United States in some way no matter with the purpose or intent. If one or more of the people commit any action to, in essence, evoke the object of the conspiracy itself, then all people involved will be fined under the statute. Prison time of up to five years is a possibility as well.
There is also a provision under this statute where the offense of the crime may be such that the subject of the conspiracy is only a misdemeanor. If that is the case, the possible punishment is less severe. The penalty will not be more than the maximum sentence permitted for each misdemeanor that was committed.
Conspiracy to Commit Mail or Wire Fraud
Section 18 of U.S. Code 1349 creates another conspiracy type that is specifically related to the commission of some type of wire or mail fraud. Essentially, this applies to any individual who tries to use the mail or wire system to commit any of a number of different crimes. The definition of mail fraud is the key element here. If one is convicted of such fraud, a prison sentence of not more than 20 years and a financial penalty are possible.
What is Exactly is Conspiracy?
To understand the statutes that apply here, one must first know what exactly conspiracy is. It is essentially an agreement amongst more than one individual to engage in some type of criminal conduct. However, certain elements must be in place for this to rise to the level of federal conspiracy.
The Criminal Code basically states that a federal crime exists when two or more conspire to commit a crime against the country, or any agent of the United States. If even one of those people carries out the crime, all of those involved in the planning will potentially be charged with conspiracy. Within this statute itself, conspiracy is not really defined. Despite that, courts still use the term conspiracy openly to charge defendants with the crime.
The Supreme Court has broadly rules that a conspiracy exists with at least two people agree together to commit some type of criminal activity. The action draws the attention of federal investigators when the crime that is being talked about is meant in some way to harm the United States. This typically involves defrauding the U.S. government, even if there is no existing statute that stipulates the action is actually fraudulent.
As you can imagine, conspiracy cases are quite complex. The penalties can be severe, and the defense difficult to mount. You need a lawyer on your side who understand the federal system and can work to fight these charges and shine a light on your innocence. The statutes are broad and they can move a case in many different directions. If you find yourself brought up on federal conspiracy charges, contact a professional and experienced attorney right away.
Numerous federal criminal cases are organized as so-called “conspiracy.” matters This article will help you better understand the concept of a federal criminal conspiracy, the elements that the government needs to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt to establish that there was collusion involving multiple defendants, in addition to some of the defenses to successfully evade or combat a criminal conspiracy. The article takes into account the most recent case law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which redefined federal conspiracy law in 2018 a way that gives preference to accused defendants.
Our firm, is a in federal criminal defense law. We offer our clients across the country tried and true defense strategies against federal investigations. Our attorneys routinely defend clients that are facing allegations of conspiracy to commit:
The Parts of a Conspiracy Charge
According to federal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people (some states only require one person, notably New York) to join together to attempt to accomplish some unlawful purpose. It is not at all relevant whether the conspiracy plan worked out and whether the conspiracy was fruitful.
Elements of Conspiracy Made Simple
Agreement: The basic detail of a conspiracy is that two or more people agree between themselves to commit a crime. While numerous conspiracies are characterized an express agreement, in which people meet or converse on the phone to work out their criminal plans and agreement, such as a plan to commit a robbery of a casino, the government could also demonstrate what is called an indirect conspiracy. In an indirect conspiracy, the circumstances make clear that the collaborators were all planning to and/or did commit a crime, even in the absence of any express agreement.
Although it is not required that every member of the conspiracy knows all the details of the criminal plan, each individual must at least implicitly agree to the same, illegal endeavor. Moreover, the participants in a conspiracy do not all need to know one another. Conversely, in numerous conspiracies, the individuals charged in the indictment have never even heard the names of many of their co-defendants before the criminal charges were made, never had any sort of business dealings with them, and never even met them. Noentheless, in such conspiracies, the collaborators are all connected through the common goal to commit a crime or through other individual members of the group. Many times, all the members work for, or are contractors for, one company. Just a one-time single agreement can be enough to establish a conspiracy, although there may be several unique criminal objectives of that conspiracy.
In the Fifth Circuit, which encompasses Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, the Court recently entered an opinion emphasizing that the burden is on the government to prove a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt. In United States v. Ganji. No. 16-31119 (5th Cir. Jan. 30, 2018), the Court explained: “[c]onspirators do not enter into an agreement by happenstance, and because an agreement is the essential element of conspiracy, an agreement to commit a crime cannot be lightly inferred.” Id. at 9. In other words, the government is obligated prove an agreement to commit a crime existed beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 10. “The actions surrounding the defendant and the co-conspirators’ conduct, taken together, must show they intentionally entered into an agreement.” Id. And even though a conspiracy may be proven by indirect or circumstantial evidence, in such cases, “the Government must present evidence of the conspirators’ individual actions that, taken together, evidence an agreement to commit an unlawful objective beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. (emphasis in original).
Intent: To be able to prove a conspiracy, the government is obligated to demonstrate specific intent. In other words, the defendant must have intended to agree to commit a crime, not simply approve someone else’s commission of that crime. Said defendant was to have possessed a direct intention to commit the crime that is the subject of the alleged conspiracy.
Often, defendants wonder whether the government must prove that each individual collaborator of the conspiracy intended to execute the crime that is the target of the conspiracy, or whether it is good enough for the government to prove the intention to enter into an agreement to commit a crime. The answer is the latter: the federal conspiracy law simply requires the prosecution to show intent to engage in some type of unscrupulous conduct, as opposed to requiring evidence that the defendant was aware of the specific circumstances of each element of the crime. In other words, “a corrupt motive or intent to do wrong” is sufficient to create a conspiracy, regardless of the details of the crime that is actually committed. See United States v. Feola, 420 U.S. 671 (1975) (affirming conviction of multiple defendants for conspiracy to assault a federal agent despite defendants’ lack of knowledge that drug buyer was federal agent).
One unique dilema that sometimes arises in conspiracy cases is how to handle things when an individual collaborator in the conspiracy only participates by furnishing goods and/or services that in themselves are legal. Most courts concur that such a person can still be held accountable for conspiracy if he or she is aware that their customer is going to use those goods and/or services to commit a crime. The government is not obligated to prove that the goods or services were provided with the express intent of supporting or advancing a criminal offence.
Overt Act: Finally, under general federal conspiracy legislation, at least one overt act must have been committed in the carrying-out of the conspiracy. At least one of the collaborators must have taken some action to actually set the conspiracy in motion, on top of the agreement to commit a criminal act.
Nonetheless, not all conspiracy charges require that an overt act to further the conspiracy be committed in order for a conspiracy conviction to be obtained. For instance, the government often charges healthcare fraud conspiracies under a unique statute that does not necessitate an overt act – simply an agreement to commit a crime is sufficient. See United States v Jones, 733 F.3d 574, 584 (5th Cir. 2015) (“Section 371 contains an overt-act requirement, but Section 1349 does not contain an overt-act requirement”); refer also to United States v. Ellis, NO. H-10-416-S, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95302, at *23 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 25, 2011) (“Since the conspiracies in question were both charged under 18 U.S.C. § 1349, no overt acts were required to be alleged or proven.”). Healthcare fraud is not the only type of conspiracy that gets charged under this law. Conspiracies to commit wire or mail fraud are also frequently charged under this section.
Disadvantages to Conspiracy Defendants
Conspiracies can give prosecutors huge advantages in criminal cases. Unlike other crimes, conspiracy is sanctionable even if the target crime remains incomplete (or unproven). Conspiracy is a powerful and well liked weapon for prosecutors since it permits the government to take advantage of the evidentiary rules to obtain convictions.
First, each co-conspirator is deemed to have authorized other collaborators in the conspiracy to act and speak on their behalf. Thus, it follows that any statements that co-conspirators provide in furtherance of the conspiracy can be admitted at a later date at trial to demonstrate that the defendant entered into a conspiracy. See Bourjalily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171 (1987) (allowing hearsay statements by a co-conspirator as admissible evidence if the prosecutor first proves by a preponderance of the evidence that a conspiracy exists).
Second, a prosecutor is at liberty to try all co-conspirators in a single trial. This method is far more efficient than having to select a new jury and hold a unique trial for every defendant. A defendant has the right to move to sever his or her trial, but customarily, this option is disfavored by the court.
Third, each co-conspirator can be held accountable for any reasonably calculable criminal act committed by another collaborator in furtherance of the conspiracy in question. In other words, the prosecution is not required to demonstrate that the defendant intended to assist or otherwise facilitate or encourage the commission of the crime. The prosecutor is simply obligated to prove that a crime was foreseeable. Every collaborator in a conspiracy is vicariously liable by entering into an agreement and is automatically considered to have given authority to every member of the conspiracy to act as an agent of the others to commit a crime. Pinkerton v. United States, 328 U.S. 640 (1946).
Possible Defenses Against Conspiracy Charges
Under some circumstances, individuals charged with conspiracy might be capable of defeating said charges by raising a specific affirmative defense recognized by federal conspiracy law. If the defendant can show that he renounced the conspiracy or withdrew himself from it, or that the conspiracy failed, he or she may be found not guilty.
Renunciation: According to the majority of the legislation, defendants can exercise the defense of renunciation. The affirmative defense of renunciation necessitates that the defendants must have actively hindered the success of the conspiracy and that their abandonment was both complete and voluntary. An example of a successful renunciation is to tip off law enforcement officials before any crime takes place as long as the renunciation does not come in too late, and the success and completion of the crime can be impeded. Merely abandoning a conspiracy in an effort to evade criminal charges does not suffice.
Withdrawal: Another possible defense is if a collaborator informs the other members of the conspiracy that he is going to withdraw and cease and desist from the conspiracy. A collaborator’s notification to all co-conspirators that he or she no longer intends to participate in the criminal plan, as long as it is done in a manner that allows time for the other conspirators to also elect to abandon the conspiracy, allows the evasion of criminal penalties for all future crimes. This does not, however, absolve a person of any past crimes. Withdrawal from a conspiracy cannot alleviate the burden of crimes that were already committed. The federal courts explicitly allow the defense of withdrawal as long as the defendant takes unquestionable actions that are inconsistent with the goals of the conspiracy and takes reasonable steps to effectively communicate his abandonment to his co-conspirators U.S. v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422, 464-465 (1978).
Impossibility: While legal and factual impossibilities almost never take place, a defendant would not be convicted of conspiracy if the parties agree to commit an act that they believe is a crime, when in fact it is not a crime to commit the planned act. When no law prohibits the planned actions, a conspiracy cannot be demonstrated despite the members’ willingness to break the law. Prosecutors are prevented from imposing conspiracy laws to sanction the conduct of a person whose participation in the offense in question is logically required, but whose behavior is not made criminal by that offense.