Oftentimes, federal prosecutors will indict individuals on broad and vague conspiracy charges where they lack firm evidence of a completed substantive offense. Charging you with a federal conspiracy allows the government to maximize your criminal exposure and potential sentence even where evidence may be weak and where a crime may have never come remotely close to fruition. Within the eyes of the law, the conspiracy agreement itself is impactful and consequential.
As defined within 18 U.S.C. § 371, it is illegal for two or more individuals to plan to commit a federal crime or defraud the federal government. Beyond the agreement, the government must also show that you also took an additional step by committing an “overt act” in furtherance of that conspiracy. Some of the more common underlying federal crimes upon which a conspiracy agreement is based include racketeering, fraud, healthcare offenses, and drug trafficking.
Hence, the three critical elements of a federal conspiracy are:
1) an agreement between two or more parties, the goal of which is an offense against the United States government;
2) the defendant’s intentional joinder in that conspiracy; and
3) an overt act in furtherance of that conspiracy.
A federal prosecutor isn’t required to prove that you or a co-conspirator committed a federal crime. Another thing a federal prosecutor isn’t obligated to prove is that you or any alleged co-conspirator even had a written agreement.
A diligent and insightful criminal defense attorney will poke holes in the government’s conspiracy case, particularly as it relates to the “overt act” element. Federal prosecutors will frequently try to expand this definition, and fit your conduct within it, even where no such act was taken. Pinpointing this evidence, or lack thereof, is crucial towards your successful defense.
If you are being prosecuted for a conspiracy, hire a former prosecutor and seasoned federal defense attorney who has dealt with these charges and is well-equipped to fight back. Being charged with a conspiracy is only one small piece of the puzzle. What your defense attorney does afterwards, by way of investigation and creative advocacy, will both increase your chances of successfully walking away from these accusations and shape the rest of your life.
The sooner you put your case in the hands of an experienced criminal defense lawyer, the more likely your matter will end favorably.