New Jersey – How Do Federal Conspiracy Charges Work?
Conspiracy can be broadly defined. Many different circumstances can lead to conduct that allows for a conspiracy charge. It’s difficult to defend against a conspiracy charge. The defendant’s attorney must investigate all of the evidence and the role that the government believes every involved individual played.
People may be charged with conspiracy to commit federal crimes if at least two people agree that they will commit a federal crime together. In addition to the agreement, at least one party involved in the conspiracy must act to push the conspiracy further.
Conspiracy charges do not need written evidence. The involved parties don’t need to have written a contract. As long as the prosecutor can provide proof that the parties did work together to commit a crime, they can achieve a conspiracy conviction.
The federal statute that outlines conspiracy charges is 18 U.S.C. 371. In the statute, it is made criminal to conspire to defraud the US government and to conspire to violate any federal law. For an act to be a conspiracy, it needs to meet the following requirements:
- At least two people plan together to commit a federal crime or to defraud the US government
- At lest one of the involved parties works to commit the crime in question
This is the general definition of federal conspiracy. But there are also conspiracy provisions found within other federal statutes. Some of the specific details include:
- You cannot conspire to distribute, manufacture, or intend to distribute a controlled substance
- You cannot conspire to commit a robbery
There have been many different conspiracy charges argued and debunked. Significant precedent has been set for future cases. In the past, judges have ruled that people can conspire together even if they never interact or meet. All they need to know is that the other individual was furthering the conspiracy.
This type of situation occurs most often in conspiracies that involve tangled webs of many individuals. A central entity may coordinate other people without ever giving them information about who they’re working with. All of these people have legally conspired together despite not knowing each other.
Because of how broad the definition of “conspiracy” is, it is possible for the government to abuse the statute. People may be subject to absurd consequences for relatively minor actions. With how the law is written, a person could be prosecuted and convicted of conspiracy charges if they agreed to a bank robbery with another individual, and then bought a ski mask for the robbery. Even if the two individuals would never actually go through with the plan, doing those things is enough.
A huge consequence of conspiracy charges is that all the involved individuals are held equally responsible. In cases where one person masterminded the conspiracy and used others to do their bidding, the less-informed parties are subject to the same criminal charges.
This tends to happen commonly in cases involving drug conspiracies. If a person was involved in a drug-related conspiracy in some very minor way, they may be charged as though they were involved with all the drugs. Perhaps they only distributed some marijuana, but they’re being given minimum sentences for intending to distribute methamphetamines like the other people involved in the drug ring.
Defense Attorneys for Conspiracy Charges
If you’re facing a federal conspiracy charge, it’s vital that you have adequate legal counsel. An experienced federal defense attorney can examine the evidence and help you understand your path forward. They may be able to help you negotiate a plea deal or provide a solid defense should the case proceed to trial.
The laws about federal conspiracies are extremely complicated in part because they are so simple. Because of how open to interpretation the statutes are, prosecutors can bring conspiracy charges down on people in many different circumstances. People are most likely to face conspiracy charges when involved in white collar crime accusations or drug-related accusations.
Your defense attorney can take steps to defend you against the charges. They will analyze the evidence presented by the government. They may also need to dig deep to find the evidence and story that the prosecution is creating. The process takes a great deal of time, so it’s important to have an attorney who is dedicated to your case.
If you’re facing federal criminal charges, our law firm can help. Our New Jersey partners practice in federal criminal court.