Federal conspiracy statutes make it a crime for anyone to conspire with another person to commit a crime. Conspiracy charges can be prosecuted in either state or federal court. In a conspiracy case, the criminal defense attorney often is contesting whether the conspiracy existed and whether the person accused was a member of that conspiracy.
Minor participants often become caught up in the investigation. Hiring an attorney at the earliest stage of the investigation, especially for federal charges of conspiracy in white collar crime or fraud cases, is often the smartest move a person can make. Never talk to any federal agent about the facts of the case or your involvement in a conspiracy to commit any state or federal offense. First seek out the advice of a criminal defense attorney.
San Antonio Conspiracy Defense Attorney
If you are being investigated or have been charged with a federal conspiracy crime, contact an experienced conspiracy defense lawyer at Goldstein & Orr. Each of the four attorneys at Goldstein & Orr have significant experience in federal court fighting conspiracy charges at every stage of the case.
We represent clients throughout Texas and the United States including the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division. Call us today at (210) 226-1463 to discuss your case.
Overview of Federal Conspiracy Law
- Elements of Conspiracy
- Conspiracy to Defraud
- The Affirmative Defense of Withdrawing from the Conspiracy
- Penalties for Different Types of Federal Conspiracy Charges
Elements of Conspiracy
The term “conspiracy” is defined under federal law as an agreement between two or more people to join together to accomplish some unlawful purpose. It has been described as a “partnership in crime” in which each member becomes the agent of every other member.
When a person is accused of conspiracy to commit an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 371 in federal court, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond all reasonable doubt:
- The defendant and at least one other person made an agreement to commit the crime of charged in the indictment
- The defendant knew the unlawful purpose of the agreement and joined in it willfully, that is, with the intent to further the unlawful purpose
- One of the conspirators during the existence of the conspiracy knowingly committed at least one of the overt acts described in the indictment, in order to accomplish some object or purpose of the conspiracy
One may become a member of a conspiracy without knowing all the details of the unlawful scheme or the identities of all the other alleged conspirators. If a defendant understands the unlawful nature of a plan or scheme and knowingly and intentionally joins in that plan or scheme on one occasion, that may constitute sufficient evidence to convict him for conspiracy even though the defendant had not participated before and even though the defendant played only a minor part.
Depending on the facts of the case, the government does not necessarily need to prove that the alleged conspirators entered into any formal agreement, nor that they directly stated between themselves all the details of the scheme. Likewise, it is not necessarily required that the government prove that all of the details of the scheme alleged in the indictment were actually agreed upon or carried out. Finally, the government does not necessarily need to prove that all of the persons alleged to have been members of the conspiracy were such, or that the alleged conspirators actually succeeded in accomplishing their unlawful objectives.
Defenses to Conspiracy Charges
A conspiracy requires more than just the mere presence at the scene of an event, even if the person has knowledge that a crime is being committed. Likewise, the mere fact that certain persons may have associated with each other, and may have assembled together and discussed common aims and interests, does not necessarily establish proof of the existence of a conspiracy.
A person does not become a conspirator when the person has no knowledge of a conspiracy, but happens to act in a way which advances some purpose of a conspiracy. Defenses in the case often center around whether the person withdrew from the conspiracy.
Conspiracy to Defraud
Under the second clause of 18 U.S.C. § 371, it is a federal crime for anyone to conspire with another person to defraud the United States or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose. When a person is charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, the charges usually involves an allegation of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful function of the Internal Revenue Service in the ascertainment, assessment or collection of income taxes due.
The word “defraud” is not limited to its ordinary meaning of cheating the government out of money or property. In many cases, it can include things like impairing, obstructing, defeating, or interfering with the lawful function of the government or one of its agencies by dishonest means.
Elements of a Conspiracy to Defraud
The following elements of a Conspiracy to Defraud must be proven beyond all reasonable doubt:
- The defendant and at least one other person made an agreement to defraud the government or one of its agencies, as charged in the indictment;
- The defendant knew that the purpose of the agreement was to defraud the government and joined in it willfully, that is, with the intent to defraud; and
- One of the conspirators during the existence of the conspiracy knowingly committed at least one of the overt acts described in the indictment, in order to accomplish some object or purpose of the conspiracy.
The Affirmative Defense of Withdrawing from the Conspiracy
In many conspiracy cases, the person accused of the crime will raise the affirmative defense of withdrawal from the conspiracy. The defendant has the burden of proving that he withdrew from the conspiracy by a preponderance of evidence. The fact that the defendant has raised this defense, however, does not relieve the government of its initial burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an unlawful agreement and that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined it.
Under this defense, the defendant makes a substantial showing that he took some affirmative step to terminate or abandon participating in the conspiracy. The defense essentially requires the defendant to demonstrate some type of affirmative action to disavow or defeat the purpose of the conspiracy.
Under this defense, a partial or temporary withdrawal is not sufficient. Instead, the defense of withdrawal requires the defendant to make a complete withdrawal. Merely doing nothing or just avoiding contact with other members of the conspiracy is not enough. Examples of withdrawing from the conspiracy would include:
- Telling the other conspirators that he did not want to have anything more to do with it
- Voluntarily going to the police or other law enforcement officials and telling them about the plan
- Any other affirmative acts that were inconsistent with the object of the conspiracy and communicated in a way reasonably likely to reach the other members
The prosecution will argue that a member of a conspiracy remains in the conspiracy unless he can show that at some point he completely withdrew from the conspiracy. The withdrawal defense in a conspiracy cases is commonly raised in the following types of cases:
- When the prosecution claims Pinkerton liability and the defendant claims he withdrew from the conspiracy prior to the commission of substantive offenses committed by other conspirators
- As a defense based on the statute of limitations when the defendant shows his involvement in the conspiracy ended beyond the limitations period
- As a defense to the conspiracy charge itself when the defendant claims that he withdrew from the conspiracy prior to the commission of any overt act and the charged conspiracy requires an overt act
Penalties for Different Types of Federal Conspiracy Charges
All conspiracy charges are punishable by a fine of up to $250,000 for an individual or $500,000 for an organization. Additionally, conspiracy charges often form the basis for a forfeiture order or restitution order. Several different conspiracy statutes exist under federal laws that prohibit engaging in specific forms of prohibited conduct including:
- Drug trafficking conspiracies, which are punishable by the same penalties as the underlying drug trafficking charge
- Terrorist conspiracies, which are punishable by the same penalties as the underlying terrorist charge
- Racketeering conspiracies. which are punishable by the same penalties as the underlying RICO charge
- Conspiracy to commit other federal offenses is prohibited under 18 U.S.C. 371, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years
Federal Conspiracy Defense Lawyer
If you are under investigation for any federal charges involving conspiring with another to commit a federal offense, such as white collar crime including bank fraud or tax fraud, or drug crimes such as conspiracy to distribute narcotics, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Goldstein & Orr. Call (210) 226-1463 today for a free consultation to discuss your case.