Federal Conspiracy Laws: 18 U.S.C. § 371
In the United States there are statutes that allow federal prosecutors to charge two or more individuals with conspiring to commit a crime. These statutes are found in both federal and state laws. The general federal conspiracy laws are codified under 18 U.S.C. § 371 which defines conspiracy as occurring when:
“two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy.”
This federal conspiracy statute makes it a crime to conspire to defraud the United States along with conspiring to violate any federal laws. Federal conspiracy requires at least two people to intentionally agree to commit a crime, and then take an action towards the fulfilment of that agreement.
There are a few benefits that make conspiracy charges attractive to prosecutors. Firstly, conspiracy charges are not tethered to the crime itself which means that someone can be charged with both conspiracy to commit a crime and commission of the crime itself. Secondly, conspiracy charges often incorporate a legal concept known as vicarious liability. Simply put, vicariously liability means that someone can be held responsible for the actions or omissions of another. In the case of criminal conspiracy, those involved in a conspiracy can also be guilty of actions taken by their co-conspirators within the scope of the conspiracy. Thus, prosecutors can charge everyone involved in a conspiracy with all the crimes committed by all the members of the conspiracy.
What The Prosecution Must Prove
In a conspiracy case, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- Two or more people
- Agreed to
- Commit an offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States; and
- An action was taken in furtherance of this conspiracy
Generally, the prosecution proves that two or more people have entered into a conspiracy through evidence that links cooperation between them, and by demonstrating their gain through the conspiracy. Additionally, the prosecution must show that after the defendants agreed to commit a crime that their agreement went beyond just talk and communications. There must be a demonstrable action taken that progressed the conspiracy after the agreement was reached beyond the hypothetical.
Common defenses in conspiracy trials include:
1. Withdrawal from the conspiracy. The law recognizes that someone can both enter an ongoing conspiracy and that someone can withdraw from a current conspiracy. To prove that a defendant has withdrawn they must demonstrate that they took an affirmative action against the conspiracy and that they took an affirmative action to communicate with co-conspirators or law enforcement that they had left said conspiracy.
2. Demonstrating that the crime committed was not pre-planned or conspired, or that there was not an affirmative step taken towards making the conspiracy a reality. If no one within the conspiracy tried to make it happen then it is not a conspiracy crime.
In addition to sentencing guidelines, there are a few other factors that help to influence a judge in their sentencing decisions including:
- The defendant’s personal history
- Criminal history or lack of one
- The details of the crime
In general, conspiracy crimes are punished as felonies that combine a fine and no more than five years of imprisonment, but conspiracy charges are often combined with other charges. An important note; however, if the crime in the conspiracy was a misdemeanor the punishment for the conspiracy cannot exceed the punishment for a misdemeanor.
Call Us, We Have Years Of Experience
The Kushner Law Group, PLLC, has had years of experience defending and protecting the rights of our clients in both New York State and the Federal courts. We have won successful results on behalf of our clients and are here to protect your rights if you’ve been charged with conspiracy to commit a crime under 18 U.S.C. § 371. Send us an email or call us now for a free consultation at 718-838-9341